Justice Department Report Outlines Rights Violations Under PATRIOT; ACLU Sees Pattern of Abuse by Federal Agencies

July 21, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – In a mandated semi-annual report to Congress, the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General today publicly released a report outlining allegations of civil rights and civil liberties abuses by Justice Department personnel under the USA PATRIOT Act. The American Civil Liberties Union welcomed the report and its findings, but continued to call for vigorous oversight of the implementation and abuses of the government’s new powers.

“Once again the Department of Justice is being called on the carpet by its very own Inspector General,” said Anthony Romero, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “The recent findings coupled with the earlier Inspector General report show that there was a pattern of violating rights and that policies set at the highest level were responsible for such violations. We must ensure that our law enforcement agencies abide by the rules of the game.”

The Inspector General’s report provided an overview of the 34 cases that the office determined to constitute a “credible PATRIOT Act complaint.” The office said initially received close to 2,000 reports of abuses, though many fell outside the purview of the Inspector General or were not PATRIOT Act related. The Inspector General’s office said that 272 complaints fell within its jurisdiction. Most of the investigations remain open and ongoing.

The Inspector General findings come on the heels of another report issued last month outlining the mistreatment of detainees in the aftermath of 9-11. Most of the examples of civil rights abuses in the current report involve Bureau of Prison officials, an agency under the purview of the Justice Department. There are numerous counts of alleged physical, verbal, and mental abuse of those in detention by government employees. Examples of abuse by immigration and law enforcement officials were also documented in the report, including one case of an unwarranted search and seizure by the FBI.

The report also provides recommendations for various policies, including the searching of religious headwear, the selection of Muslim clerics for inmate services, review of the Attorney General Guidelines on general criminal and criminal intelligence investigations and a review of outreach attempts by the Inspector General seeking examples of abuses under the USA PATRIOT Act. The report also candidly admits that, “given the number of complaints and its limited resources, the OIG does not investigate all allegations of misconduct against DOJ employees,” and that 28 of the 34 complaints were referred to other internal affairs offices for their review.

“What remains most disturbing is the tendency of the Justice Department to minimize and downplay what were serious civil liberties and civil rights violations,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington National Office. “While we applaud these findings, Congress and the Administration must provide proper guidance and continuing oversight to protect our civil rights and civil liberties.”

The Inspector General’s Report can be seen at:
http://www.usdoj.gov/oig/special/03-07/final.pdf

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