‘Justice’ Blasted Over Patriot Act Prosecutions
By Greg Szymanski
The horror stories surrounding the Patriot Act continue to mount, and civil liberties may be a thing of the past if the Bush administration continues to have its way. A recent report to Congress by the Justice Department’s judicial watchdog office illustrates just how far out of control the FBI conducts business in respect to constitutional protections like proper arrest procedures, search and seizure methods and detainment interrogation policies.
Critics claim the report is just the “tip of the iceberg” since it came from a partisan internal policy body, the Justice Department Office of Professional Responsibility headed by Inspector General Glen Fine.
Fine’s report, handed to Congress in September 2004,cited the FBI’s blatant disregard for Brandon Mayfield’s civil rights after the Oregon lawyer was mistakenly linked to the March 2004 attacks on trains in Madrid that killed nearly 200 people and wounded 2,000.
Mayfield, a devout Muslim convert, was arrested in May 2004 on a material witness warrant after the FBI mistakenly determined his fingerprints matched prints found on a bag containing explosive detonators like those used in Madrid. After being held three weeks in FBI custody, Mayfield was released after authorities admitted they made a mistake and rushed to judgment. The release came after finding the fingerprints did not match Mayfield’s.
According to Fine’s report, the “FBI inappropriately conducted (under the Patriot Act) a surreptitious search of his home potentially motivated by his Muslim faith and ties to the Muslim community.”
Mayfield and his attorney were unavailable for comment this week, as attempts to reach them at their Oregon homes by telephone and email were not answered.
Fine released no other details on Mayfield’s case or other potential civil rights abuses tied to the Patriot Act, hurriedly passed by Congress after the Sept. 11 attacks to give the government broader surveillance and prosecution powers to use against terrorists.
Critics, however, suggest the loose definition of what constitutes a terrorist combatant unduly exposes innocent citizens to unnecessary government surveillance against which they were previously protected by the U.S. Constitution.
After the Mayfield report was presented to Congress, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said the
report clearly demonstrated how the secrecy used in terrorism investigations can be excessive, leading to the arrest and detention of many innocent people in direct violation of the Constitution.
Since the passage of the heavily criticized Patriot Act, FBI agents and federal prosecutors have been assailed for overzealously bending the act’s intent to place surveillance on citizens for possible violations not involving terrorism.
In particular, the Justice Department and former Attorney General John Ashcroft have circulated interoffice memos to various federal offices, instructing federal prosecutors and agents on how to stretch the Patriot Act to encompass surveillance for non-related terrorism investigations.
Regarding the Justice Department’s internal report, it comes from a provision within the Patriot Act itself, which authorizes the inspector general to review complaints about civil liberties and civil rights abuses involving federal personnel.
Critics complain such an internal investigation lacks credibility since the policing agency should come from a non-biased outside source, not Justice Department investigators.
The latest report given to Congress, including the Mayfield case, covered a period from Dec. 16, 2003, to June 21, 2004. During that time, 1,613 complaints were filed, however,only a handful have merited further investigation by the inspector general.
Approximately 1,000 were immediately dismissed as frivolous without any follow-up investigation, most termed as “farfetched claims.”
Another 410 complaints involving government workers were determined to be not under the inspector general’s jurisdiction.
Concerning the remaining 208 complaints,only 13 including Mayfield’s, warranted further review, causing critics to complain about a biased selection process due to the low number of investigated complaints.
Another case involves the lengthy detention of four Arabs,who claim they were handcuffed, taken to FBI headquarters for questioning and subjected to humiliation.
The remaining 10 cases were turned over to other government agencies for investigation.