Justice Department must stop clandestine detentions

The battle against Attorney General John Ashcroft’s anonymous detention of non-citizens now has a face. Amnesty International, an international human rights watchdog group known for its letter-writing campaigns to leaders of countries where human rights are subverted, turned its sights on the United States on Tuesday. They are calling on members to write letters to President George W. Bush, asking him to do something about Zacharias Moussaoui, a French citizen detained in Eagan on Aug. 17 who has since been held without any charges filed against him.

By concentrating on the United States, Amnesty International – which normally focuses on such reprehensible regimes as Peru, Cuba and the Taliban – indicates the Justice Department is behaving unacceptably. International scorn is something Americans have been subjected to before, usually for the U.S. intervention in other countries or for the effects of globalization. This is different because we are now being seen as perpetrating broad, clandestine human rights violations within our own borders.

To make matters worse, Ashcroft’s recent remarks indicate he sees nothing wrong. He announced yesterday that the Justice Department is currently detaining 550 non-U.S. citizens after a “deliberate campaign of arrests” to prevent future attacks. After refusing to release their names, Ashcroft made the ludicrous justification that he was doing so to protect the privacy rights of those involved.

This war on terror, which the Bush administration continually warns us will be long, has just begun and already “certain inalienable human rights” are being tossed aside by the Justice Department. If it is not stopped soon, there is no telling how far it might be carried when the war expands, though history provides a few examples. If Ashcroft continues his stubborn refusal to uphold his oath of office, perhaps Congress, after their upcoming hearings regarding the anti-terrorism investigation’s status, should consider sending him back to Missouri.

Complaints of civil liberties abuses are also beginning to surface. Inmates reportedly beat a Pakistani student for being a suspected terrorist. Prison guards allegedly did not come to his aid, according to an Associated Press story. Other allegations include harassment of detainees, not allowing an inmate to sleep and interrogating a blindfolded Israeli while allowing him no clothing but his underpants.

As for Moussaoui, the only justification offered by the Justice Department for his three-month detention is that his confiscated computer revealed he had been to Web sites containing information about crop dusting. Considering the FBI’s recent track record regarding federal detainees, such as the disgraceful detention of Wen Ho Lee and the last-minute bungling of the Timothy McVeigh case, their prowess in these matters can legitimately be held suspect. After three months detention ñ possibly in spite of his innocence ñ they must justify his imprisonment now. Speed is essential, considering the 549 other people currently waiting for justice.