FBI Director Affirms Need to Be Safe and Free; Leaves Unanswered Key Civil Liberties Concerns

June 13, 2003 12:00 am

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June 13, 2003

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WASHINGTON – Responding to remarks made at its conference today by FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, the American Civil Liberties Union said that it was gratified that Mueller explicitly adopted the ACLU’s assertion that the government has the obligation to keep Americans both safe and free. But the organization said its ongoing concerns about government policies and actions since 9/11 were not alleviated.

For more on the ACLU’s Safe and Free Campaign, go to:

For more information on the conference, go to:

“”Although the FBI Director sought to assure us that protecting civil liberties is a core mission of the Bureau, we continue to believe that the Justice Department too often sees civil liberties and national security as mutually exclusive,”” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. “”At the end of the day, the ‘trust us, we’re the government’ defense is not sufficient in an open, democratic system.””

Mueller faced tough questions from a respectful audience of more than 1,200 ACLU members concerned about how the government is using the expanded law enforcement powers granted by Congress just 45 days after the September 11 attacks. The ACLU members spent yesterday on Capitol Hill urging their Members of Congress to preserve civil liberties as they wrestle with the government’s seemingly insatiable appetite for new law enforcement powers.

“”As their questions today showed, ACLU members are committed to the idea – articulated clearly by Director Mueller himself – that our law enforcement agencies not become ‘a tool for oppression,'”” said Nadine Strossen, President of the ACLU. “”But at the end of the day, none of our key concerns were assuaged.””

The ACLU also said Mueller’s response to questioning about an internal Justice Department report, which detailed the extensive mistreatment of hundreds of federal detainees held shortly after 9/11, failed to address the fundamental concern that these detentions turned the presumption of innocence in America on its head.

The ACLU’s Romero fully acknowledged, though, Director Mueller’s candid admission that “”mistakes”” were made. Attorney General Ashcroft, by contrast, has consistently maintained that the Justice Department’s actions were justified.

The report specifically criticized the FBI for using highly irregular procedures to keep these detainees behind bars and deny them access to counsel, even though none were shown to have any connection whatsoever to the events of September 11.

Indeed, news reports today confirmed that immigration officials will no longer wait for the FBI to let them know if they can release or deport immigrants designated “”of interest”” to a terrorism investigation. Instead, they will notify the FBI of removals and then give the agency a chance to demonstrate that a suspect could be linked to terrorism.

For more on the ACLU’s Safe and Free Campaign:

For more information on the conference, go to:

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