ACLU Urges Vigorous Questioning on 9/11 Detainee Abuse and PATRIOT Act Misuse

June 5, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today urged House lawmakers to demand answers from Attorney General John Ashcroft on recent revelations of the systematic abuse of immigrants held in the months after the 9/11 attacks and the active use of the USA PATRIOT Act’s surveillance powers in run-of-the-mill criminal cases.

“”The Justice Department’s pat response to clear evidence of civil liberties violations has been ‘we’re protecting America from terrorists,’ when in fact they have not proven that their excesses are connected to fighting terrorism,”” said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “”The American people deserve definitive reform to ensure that both our safety and our freedoms are protected equally in the post-9/11 era.””

Attorney General Ashcroft is set to testify this morning in front of the House Judiciary Committee. The hearing is expected to address both the startling disclosures by the Justice Department on how federal law enforcement has implemented the USA PATRIOT Act and the brewing scandal over a highly critical internal report, which documents the wholesale denial of rights to immigrants with no link to terrorism held in the months after 9/11.

In an analysis released today of the USA PATRIOT disclosures, which were included in a letter to Judiciary Committee Chair James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI), the ACLU found that Justice’s submissions retain the agency’s traditionally dismissive attitude toward civil liberties concerns.

Specifically, the ACLU’s memo shows that the Justice Department had little need for many of the PATRIOT Act’s sweeping new powers; that the legislation — which was sold to Congress and the American people as crucial given the new threats posed by terrorism — is being used in regular criminal cases, and that federal officials continue to dissemble about exactly what the law does and how it can be used. The ACLU’s Edgar also said that the agency’s letter to the Judiciary Committee still fails to answer key outstanding questions about the USA PATRIOT Act’s implementation.

The Attorney General is also sure to face questions today about his agency’s handling of the hundreds of predominantly Arab, Muslim and South Asian men swept up in the months after 9/11. Earlier this week, the DOJ’s Inspector General’s Office – the department’s own internal affairs bureau – released a report detailing deliberate federal use of highly irregular procedure to keep these detainees behind bars and denial of access to counsel, even though none were shown to have any connection whatsoever to the events of September 11.

“”It’s clear from the report that the Justice Department quickly turned the war on terror into a war on immigrants,”” said Anthony Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU.

The ACLU’s interested persons memo on the Sensenbrenner-Conyers disclosures can be found at:

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