Balkinization  

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

How To Get Tough With Civil Liberties. Oops, I Meant Terrorists

JB

David Cole reports that although Attorney General John Ashcroft has detained over 5000 persons since 9/11 as suspected terrorists, he has not obtained a single conviction. (via Talkleft):
On Sept. 2 a federal judge in Detroit threw out the only jury conviction the Justice Department has obtained on a terrorism charge since 9/11. In October 2001, shortly after the men were initially arrested, Attorney General John Ashcroft heralded the case in a national press conference as evidence of the success of his anti-terror campaign. The indictment alleged that the defendants were associated with al Qaeda and planning terrorist attacks. But Ashcroft held no news conference in September when the case was dismissed, nor did he offer any apologies to the defendants who had spent nearly three years in jail. That wouldn't be good for his boss' campaign, which rests on the "war on terrorism." Here, as in Iraq, Bush's war is not going as well as he pretends.

The Detroit case was extremely weak from the outset. The government could never specify exactly what terrorist activity was allegedly being planned and never offered any evidence linking the defendants to al Qaeda. Its case consisted almost entirely of a pair of sketches and a videotape, described by an FBI agent as "casing materials" for a terrorist plot, and the testimony of a witness of highly dubious reliability seeking a generous plea deal. It now turns out that the prosecution failed to disclose to the defense evidence that other government experts did not consider the sketches and videotape to be terrorist casing materials at all and that the government's key witness had admitted to lying.

Until that reversal, the Detroit case had marked the only terrorist conviction obtained from the Justice Department's detention of more than 5,000 foreign nationals in anti-terrorism sweeps since 9/11. So Ashcroft's record is 0 for 5,000. When the attorney general was locking these men up in the immediate wake of the attacks, he held almost daily press conferences to announce how many "suspected terrorists" had been detained. No press conference has been forthcoming to announce that exactly none of them have turned out to be actual terrorists.



Comments:

How many of the 19 hijackers could have been convicted of anything had they been detained on September 10? And if they had been detained on September 10, wouldn't we be reading the same outraged articles denouncing Ashcroft for unfairly detaining innocent people who had simply intended to take a vacation, etc.?
 

Prior to 9/11/01, what did AG Ashcroft (including the Justice Department, FBI and other Bush Administration departments) know or should have known about the 19 hijackers that would have been cause to detain them? The 9/11 Commission did not specifically address this, despite evidence that there was information within the Bush Administration that al Queda had intentions to do harm in the U.S. Perhaps there would have been immigration violations addressed. Perhaps information could have been obtained from their detention (without torture, of course) that might have prevented terrorist acts. We don't know.

But the 5,000 detentions referenced in JB's post were supposed to be supported by evidence of some sort that apparently has not panned out, at least as yet. Stuart Buck's comment regarding the 19 hijackers would apply to anyone who may have been detained, with or without cause or evidence, who may have later committed a heinous crime. But does this mean it is appropriate for the Justice Department to preemptively and without cause detain persons? Of course, there is the small matter of the Bill of Rights and the rest of the Constitution. The criticism in JB's post has to do with the rule of law. In addition to Ashcroft and the White House, I guess there is yet another place where the Buck does not stop. Of course, if there are errors in JB's post, commenters should point them out; but specious arguments are inappropriate.

Now perhaps there should be a focus upon whether Ashcroft et al had been derelict in their sworn duties prior to 9/11/01.
 

Prior to 9/11/01, what did AG Ashcroft (including the Justice Department, FBI and other Bush Administration departments) know or should have known about the 19 hijackers that would have been cause to detain them? The 9/11 Commission did not specifically address this, despite evidence that there was information within the Bush Administration that al Queda had intentions to do harm in the U.S. Perhaps there would have been immigration violations addressed. Perhaps information could have been obtained from their detention (without torture, of course) that might have prevented terrorist acts. We don't know.

But the 5,000 detentions referenced in JB's post were supposed to be supported by evidence of some sort that apparently has not panned out, at least as yet. Stuart Buck's comment regarding the 19 hijackers would apply to anyone who may have been detained, with or without cause or evidence, who may have later committed a heinous crime. But does this mean it is appropriate for the Justice Department to preemptively and without cause detain persons? Of course, there is the small matter of the Bill of Rights and the rest of the Constitution. The criticism in JB's post has to do with the rule of law. In addition to Ashcroft and the White House, I guess there is yet another place where the Buck does not stop. Of course, if there are errors in JB's post, commenters should point them out; but specious arguments are inappropriate.

Now perhaps there should be a focus upon whether Ashcroft et al had been derelict in their sworn duties prior to 9/11/01.
 

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