The Inspector General in the Department of Justice has issued a report criticizing the government conduct in detaining 762 people on suspicion of terrorism after September 11.
According to the report, 491 people were arrested in New York and 70 in New Jersey. The largest number (254) were from Pakistan while 111 were from Egypt. The general climate of fear I heard about whenever I visited Jersey in those days was probably due to these arrests (and I thought people were being paranoid).
It wasn’t like any of those arrested had any connection with terrorism. In fact, some arrests were just illegal immigrants the police found while looking to follow some tip (they were not being investigated).
We also found that the F.B.I. and the I.N.S. in New York City made little attempt to distinguish between aliens who were subjects of the Penttbom [F.B.I.’s investigation into the Sept 11 attacks] investigation and those encountered coincidentally to a Penttbom lead.
And some were arrested on reports that they made anti-American statements.
A Muslim man, for instance, was arrested when an acquaintance wrote to officials that the man had made “anti-American statements.” The statements “were very general and did not involve threats of violence or suggest any direct connection to terrorism,” the report found, but the man had overstayed his visa and was held.
Though the bureau’s New York office and the Central Intelligence Agency cleared the man of any terrorist connections by mid-November 2001, F.B.I. headquarters did not clear him for release from incarceration until more than three months later because of an “administrative oversight,” the report said.
A friend of mine was going to Britain a week after September 11. While at the Dallas airport, he was watching General Musharraf’s speech which was been shown on CNN. Musharraf was basically throwing in his lot with the US in the speech (one of the few wise decisions of his rule). My friend was laughing and getting agitated (he’s an excitable kind of guy) especially because the Urdu speech and CNN’s translation didn’t match. Someone reported him and he had to go through an hour of questioning and search by federal agents. Fortunately, he was let go.
The report concludes:
While recognizing the difficult circumstances confronting the department in responding to the terrorist attacks, we found significant problems in the way the Sept. 11 detainees were treated. The I.N.S. did not serve notices of the immigration charges on these detainees within the specified time frames. This delay affected the detainees in several ways, from their ability to understand why they were being held, to their ability to obtain legal counsel, to their ability to request a bond hearing.
In addition, the department instituted a policy that these detainees would be held until cleared by the F.B.I. Although not communicated in writing, this “hold until cleared” policy was clearly understood and applied throughout the department. The policy was based on the belief, which turned out to be erroneous, that the F.B.I.’s clearance process would proceed quickly. Instead of taking a few days as anticipated, the clearance process took an average of 80 days, primarily because it was understaffed and not given sufficient priority by the F.B.I.
The F.B.I.’s initial classification decisions and the untimely clearance process had enormous ramifications for the Sept. 11 detainees. The department instituted a “no bond” policy for all Sept. 11 detainees. The evidence indicates that the I.N.S. raised concerns about this blanket “no bond” approach, particularly when it became clear that the F.B.I.’s clearance process was slow and the I.N.S. had little information in many individual cases on which to base its continued opposition to bond. The I.N.S. also raised concerns about the legality of holding aliens to conduct clearance investigations after they had received final orders of removal or voluntary departure orders. We found that the department did not address these legal issues in a timely way.
[…]we found that M.D.C. [Metropolitan Detention Center, Brooklyn, NY] staff frequently, and mistakenly, told people who inquired about a specific Sept. 11 detainee that the detainee was not held at the facility when, in fact, the opposite was true. In addition, the M.D.C.’s restrictive and inconsistent policies on telephone access for detainees prevented them from obtaining legal counsel in a timely manner.
So not only were they held for a long time, but they were held incommunicado with their families having no idea where they were. Reminds me of Pakistan, Egypt and Latin America. Way to go!
With regard to allegations of abuse, the evidence indicates a pattern of physical and verbal abuse by some correctional officers at the M.D.C. against some Sept. 11 detainees, particularly during the first months after the attacks. Although most correctional officers denied any such physical or verbal abuse, our interviews and investigation of specific complaints developed evidence that abuse had occurred.
We also concluded that, particularly at the M.D.C., certain conditions of confinement were unduly harsh, such as illuminating the detainees’ cells for 24 hours a day. Further, we found that M.D.C. staff failed to inform M.D.C. detainees in a timely manner about the process for filing complaints about their treatment.
I was wondering about what was missing from this picture. Abuse! That’s it, now all we have to do is to actually kill detainees and we’ll be even with Latin American death squads.
So what does the Justice Department have to say? May be, we are sorry? I didn’t think so.
Justice Department officials said they believed they had acted within the law in pursuing terrorist suspects. “We make no apologies for finding every legal way possible to protect the American public from further terrorist attacks,” said Barbara Comstock, a spokeswoman for the department.
Moreover, Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, whose aides handled some of the key policy decisions, was quoted in the report as saying that it was “unfair to criticize the conduct of members of my staff” during such an extraordinary period.
Unfair? So was it unfair to keep 762 men in detention for 80 days on average? Or is it unfair to criticize this guy? Which is more unfair? We report, you decide.