WASHINGTON – A report released July 20 by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) charged that federal law enforcement agencies have abused and even beaten people detained after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack. It was the second OIG report on Patriot Act abuses in as many months.

The report said that in the six months ending June 15, OIG received 34 credible complaints of civil rights and civil liberties violations committed under the USA Patriot Act. It included complaints by Muslim and Arab detainees that they had been beaten and verbally abused in federal detention centers.

The OIG received nearly 2,000 complaints, but most were not Patriot Act related. At least 272 complaints within OIG jurisdiction are under investigation. The report suggests that OIG is overwhelmed, stating, that “given … its limited resources, the OIG does not investigate all allegations of misconduct against Department of Justice employees.”

Among those accused were agents of the FBI, Bureau of Prisons guards, Drug Enforcement Administration and Immigration and Naturalization Service. In one case, a federal prison doctor was accused of telling detainees, “If I was in charge, I would execute every one of you (for the) crimes you all did.”

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said, “This report shows that we have only begun to scratch the surface with respect to the Justice Department’s disregard of constitutional rights and civil liberties. … The administration’s war on terror has misfired and harmed innocent victims with no ties to terrorism whatsoever.”

Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said, “The recent findings coupled with the earlier Inspector General report show that there is a pattern of violating rights and that policies set at the highest level were responsible for such violations.”

This was a reference to Attorney General John Ashcroft, who pushed through Congress the USA Patriot Act with its sweeping expansion of police state powers. Foes of the bill attached a provision requiring OIG to monitor enforcement of the law for abuses and report back to Congress.

The earlier report exposed physical and verbal abuse of 762 detainees at federal detention centers. The victims were held incommunicado for as long as 18 months, often in solitary confinement, with only one hour each day for exercise in leg and arm shackles.

The American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee is one of 13 civil rights groups demanding that the Justice Department release the names of the detainees. A federal judge last year ordered release of the names but stayed her ruling pending appeal by Ashcroft. An appellate court reversed the ruling and the Justice Department continues to withhold the names. Said a statement by the ADC, “Secrecy invites abuse … transparency is an indispensable element in the pursuit of justice.”

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