|Mar 9, 2004 11:32 PM ET|
NAQ 20 min. delayed
U.S. Faulted on Detainees
Internal Justice report finds abuse, some held too long
By Tom Brune
June 3, 2003
Washington - A sharply critical internal Justice
Department report released yesterday found "significant problems" in
the way federal authorities treated hundreds of foreign nationals who
were arrested and detained in the probe of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The long-awaited 198-page report by the independent inspector
general of the Justice Department found many detainees - most of them
from Pakistan, Egypt and nearby countries - languished in detention
even though most of them had no connection to terrorism or the attacks,
and some were subjected to "unduly harsh" conditions in jail.
The report was particularly critical of the FBI's New York Field
Office, which conducted investigations of 500 of the 752 foreigners
detained nationally on immigration violations in the Sept. 11 probe,
and the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where 84 of them
were held. The FBI in New York City made little attempt to distinguish
between undocumented immigrants who were subjects of the FBI terrorism
investigation and those encountered coincidentally to the
investigation, the report said.
"The evidence indicates a pattern of physical and verbal abuse by
some correctional officers at the MDC against some September 11
detainees," the report said, but noted that federal prosecutors had
declined to file charges.
The inspector general's office, which undertook the investigation
based on complaints and as a requirement of the anti-terrorism Patriot
Act, was expected to release the report last year. It was completed in
April, but its release was delayed and some of its text blacked out
after a month-long review by the Justice Department and the FBI.
Human rights groups hailed the report, emphasizing that it
confirmed many of the complaints about treatment of the detainees that
their groups have been making since the massive arrests and detentions
began the week after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
But the Justice Department refused to acknowledge it had made mistakes, and defended its actions as both legal and necessary.
"We make no apologies for finding every legal way possible to
protect the American public from further terrorist attack," said
Barbara Comstock, Justice Department spokeswoman.
In a background briefing at the Justice Department yesterday,
officials also defended themselves by describing a scene in which
officials were reeling from a devastating attack, stunned by the
appearance of anthrax letters and very fearful that a "second wave" of
terrorist attacks might be about to occur.
The report issued yesterday detailed some of the steps the Justice
Department took after the attacks, while naming key officials including
Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller.
The report quotes an aide saying that Michael Chertoff, assistant
attorney general in charge of the criminal division and now a nominee
for the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in New Jersey, said that "we
have to hold these people until we find out what is going on."
Early on, the report found, top Justice officials created an
unwritten rule that required all immigration detainees to be first
cleared by the FBI before they could be released or deported to another
That resulted in dozens of detainees remaining in custody for
months - an average of 80 days - after they had orders to be sent to
their home countries, the report found.
The general counsel for the Immigration and Naturalization Service
determined in a legal opinion January 2002 that it could not continue
to hold on to detainees to allow the FBI to conduct its investigations.
And a class-action lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional
Rights on behalf of those detainees, claiming their rights were
violated, is pending. After seeing the INS general counsel's opinion,
justice officials changed their policy on this issue.
But in February of this year, the Office of Legal Counsel of the
Justice Department issued an official ruling saying the immigration law
allows those detentions.
The report also found immigration officials did not file charges
against 192 detainees within the customary 72-hour period of time,
putting the detainees in a disadvantaged position for arranging their
Detainees also were placed in a communications blackout when they
first were put in jail, depriving them of contacts with lawyers,
friends and family, the report said.
The department instituted a policy of not permitting the detainees
to be released on bond, as is the customary case, thus causing them to
remain in custody for a longer period of time.
"The Inspector General's findings confirm our long-held view that
civil liberties and the rights of immigrants were trampled in the
aftermath of 9/11," said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the
American Civil Liberties Union.
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