ACLU Applauds Congressional Examination of Internal Report Critical of Justice Department's Handling of Post 9/11 Detainees

June 25, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – While calling for further Congressional investigation into an internal Justice Department report critical of the agency’s abuse of the hundreds of domestic detainees held in the months after 9/11, the American Civil Liberties Union today praised lawmakers for holding the first Capitol Hill hearing into the detainee findings.

“Given the seriousness of this report and the fact that the criticism is coming from inside the Justice Department itself, one Congressional hearing isn’t enough, but it’s an excellent first step,” said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Despite the Justice Department’s attempts at a whitewash, it remains clear that the war on terrorism quickly morphed into a war on immigrants.”

The full Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), held today’s hearing, which featured Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine. Fine’s office, which serves as the Justice Department’s own internal affairs unit, conducted the investigation and prepared the report.

Released earlier in June, the report detailed the ongoing and systematic abuse of the rights of the hundreds of predominantly Arab and Muslim men held in the months after the 9/11 attacks. The Justice Department, according to the report, engaged in, among other irregularities, a deliberate campaign to deny these men access to lawyers and then held them, sometimes for months, under an official “no bond” policy even after obtaining solid evidence that they had no connection to 9/11.

Additionally, the report disturbingly found that the FBI and INS destroyed hundreds of videotapes of the detainees’ interrogations, even though they could have contained evidence of this mistreatment.

Although Attorney General John Ashcroft and his spokespeople maintain that the Justice Department acted in accordance with the law, FBI Director Robert Mueller acknowledged at the ACLU’s inaugural membership conference two weeks ago that “mistakes” were made. The ACLU continues to assess legal claims that can now be made in light of the findings and, reportedly, Justice Department officials named in the report have been advised to obtain outside counsel because of possible liability.

By all accounts, the detainees abuse has also likely impeded the success of the 9/11 investigation itself. Members of immigrant communities around the country have responded to the detentions with growing feelings of alienation and distrust of the police. “In the war against terror, immigrant communities are a huge asset – their cooperation is key,” Edgar said. “But, the Justice Department’s actions have only served to breed suspicion of the government.”

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