Detentions After Attacks Pass
1,000, U.S. Says
By NEIL A. LEWIS
October 30, 2001, New York Times
WASHINGTON, Oct. 29 - Justice Department officials said today that the number of people who had been detained in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks had surpassed 1,000, and civil liberties advocates said the government's refusal to disclose the identities of those held and the charges against them raised the possibility of secret detentions.
The arrests have been shrouded in confusion and secrecy, with the Justice Department providing a running tally but declining, in most cases, to provide names and details.
Justice Department officials said today that they were slowly releasing information about some of the arrests but were prohibited from doing so in some cases and were not required to do so in many others.
Mindy Tucker, a Justice Department spokeswoman, stressed that all of those arrested had had access to lawyers. She said Attorney General John Ashcroft was confident that all the actions of law enforcement officials in the investigation had been consistent with the law and the Constitution's protections.
Nonetheless, a coalition of civil liberties groups said today that it would file a lawsuit against the government demanding that officials identify who has been arrested, what charges have been filed against them and where they are being held.
"While certain aspects of the F.B.I. investigation into the terrorist attacks need to be secret, we do not live in a country where the government can keep secret who they arrest, where they are being held, or the charges against them," said Kate Martin, the director of the Center for National Security Studies, one of several groups that called on the government today to give out more information.
"The secret detention of more than 800 people over the past few weeks is frighteningly close to the practice of `disappearing' people in Latin America," she said in a statement.
Gregory T. Nojeim, the legislative counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union, said today that he and a few others from his organization met on Friday with Robert S. Mueller III, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to ask for more information about those arrested. He said Mr. Mueller was largely unresponsive and provided no information.
Ms. Tucker, the Justice Department spokeswoman, said those detained fell into three categories: a small number of material witnesses, about 180 people charged with immigration violations and, the largest group, those being held on federal, state or local criminal charges unrelated to the Sept. 11 attacks.
Ms. Tucker said the number of those arrested in connection with the investigation of the terrorist attacks was now 1,017; most of those people are still in custody.
In the early days of the investigation, the Justice Department acknowledged that two people had been arrested on material witness warrants. Ms. Tucker said more had been held on such warrants but she would not say how many; the arrest files of everyone in that category have been sealed because of a continuing grand jury investigation.
Of those arrested on possible immigration violations, she said, all are believed to have some connection to terrorist organizations or have some information, although none have been charged with terrorist crimes.
Ms. Tucker said the arrests on immigration charges for people suspected of having some involvement in terrorist activities reflected the department's new approach emphasizing prevention of terrorist acts. Attorney General Ashcroft said last week that the department would prosecute people suspected of association with terrorist groups on whatever charges they could find in order to get them out of the country or in jail.
Ms. Tucker said that before the terrorist attacks, the department had never disclosed the identities of people charged with immigration violations. Now, she said, the department is beginning to release details of some of the cases, though not the names of those arrested.
The department has released the names of some people charged with federal criminal violations, but Ms. Tucker said some of those cases have been sealed by judges at the request of prosecutors.
David Cole, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is part of the coalition seeking more details from officials, said today that it was possible that the government had done nothing improper but that it was impossible to tell without more information. He said there were anecdotal reports of detainees unable to reach lawyers and of lawyers unable to reach their clients.
The most common news reports of abuse involve mistreatment of prisoners of Middle Eastern background at jails. Prosecutors in Brooklyn are investigating charges that a prisoner detained in connection with the terrorist investigation had been beaten by a guard at the Metropolitan Detention Center. The prisoner, Mohammed Maddy, was indicted today on a variety of criminal charges, including lying to the F.B.I. and immigration officials.
The F.B.I. is also investigating a complaint that a 20-year-old student from Pakistan was beaten by inmates while guards stood by in a Mississippi jail.
Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company