Tags: Inspector | General | Blasts | Handling | 9/11 | Detainees

Inspector General Blasts Handling of 9/11 Detainees

Tuesday, 03 June 2003 12:00 AM

Much of the critique centered around the length of time detainees were held before being “cleared” of terrorism involvement – a so-called policy of “hold until cleared.”

In the final tally, the FBI “cleared” less than 3 percent of the 762 September 11 detainees within three weeks of their arrest. The average length of time from arrest of a September 11 detainee to clearance by FBI Headquarters was 80 days, and the median was 69 days. Further, the IG report found that more than a quarter of the 762 detainees’ clearance investigations took longer than 3 months.

The IG concluded that much of the blame for the delays was owing to a lack of adequate manpower.

According to the IG report, FBI Director Robert Mueller stated that he did not recall being involved in any discussions about the creation of the “hold until cleared” policy, although he learned about the policy later.

When asked about the policy, the Attorney General told the OIG that the Department would want to know whom the detainees were if it was getting ready to remove them. He noted the inherent difficulty involved in conducting a “clearance” process, in that clearing someone is akin to “proving a negative.”

In the meantime, however, noted the report, some suspects were harshly treated, being held in 23-hour “lockdowns” and denied ready access to lawyers. Detainees who did not have legal counsel were in some cases made to wait weeks or months before receiving a list of lawyers who could represent them.

The IG reported that investigators tended to group all detainees together for purposes of treatment while confined, yet the “overwhelming majority” of people being detained were “simple immigration violators ... and had no connection to the terrorism investigation,” according to an internal Justice Department memo referenced in the report.

On September 15, 2001 New York City police stopped a group of three Middle Eastern men in Manhattan on a traffic violation. The men had the plans to a public school in their car. The next day, their employer confirmed that the men were working on construction at the school and that it was appropriate for them to have the plans. Nonetheless, they were arrested and remained detained as September 11 detainees.

Another alien was arrested on September 22, 2001 because the phone company mistakenly put his phone calls home on the bill of a New York office and the office called to report the “suspicious” bill. The alien was arrested, detained on immigration charges, and considered a September 11 detainee. He was not cleared until January 9, 2002.

Another Middle Eastern alien was arrested because he went to a car dealership on September, 2001 and was anxious to purchase a car right away. He put down a deposit on a car but did not return for the car as he agreed he would. He was arrested on September 29, 2001 and was not cleared until April 29, 2002.

Another alien was arrested because a person called the FBI a few days after the terrorist attacks to say that six to ten weeks prior, a man she hired told her that he was a licensed pilot and was saving to go to flight school in the U.S. to learn to fly commercial jets. He was arrested on September 24, 2001, and not cleared until February 12, 2002.

In the no-holds-barred report, the OIG made a point of quoting Attorney General John Ashcroft as he spoke in October, 2001 of how his agency would be handling matters in the Post-9/11 environment:

“Forty years ago, another Attorney General was confronted with a different enemy within our borders. Robert F. Kennedy came to the Department of Justice at a time when organized crime was threatening the very foundations of the Republic...

“Robert Kennedy’s Justice Department, it is said, would arrest mobsters for ‘spitting on the sidewalk’ if it would help in the battle against organized crime. It has been and will be the policy of this Department of Justice to use the same aggressive arrest and detention tactics in the war on terror.

“Let the terrorists among us be warned: If you overstay your visa – even by one day – we will arrest you. If you violate a local law, you will be put in jail and kept in custody as long as possible…”

“In sum, while the chaotic situation and the uncertainties surrounding the detainees’ connections to terrorism explain some of these problems, they do not explain them all. We believe the department should carefully consider and address the issues described in this report, and we therefore offered a series of recommendations regarding the systemic problems we identified in our review.

“They include recommendations to ensure a timely clearance process; timely service of immigration charges; careful consideration of where to house detainees with possible connections to terrorism, and under what kind of restrictions; better training of staff on the treatment of these detainees; and better oversight of the conditions of confinement. We believe these recommendations, if fully implemented, will help improve the department’s handling of detainees in other situations, both larger scale and smaller scale that may arise in the future.”

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Much of the critique centered around the length of time detainees were held before being "cleared" of terrorism involvement - a so-called policy of "hold until cleared." In the final tally, the FBI "cleared" less than 3 percent of the 762 September 11 detainees within...
Tuesday, 03 June 2003 12:00 AM
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