Category Archives: Justice Dept

The FBI and NSLs 5: Don’t Trust Mueller (Updated)

FBI Dir Robert Mueller wants the Congress to let him keep the power given him by the PATRIOT Act to use NSLs despite his total failure to supervise that use by his agents.

Mueller expressed concern about any modifications to the USA Patriot Act that might “handcuff us” in terrorism investigations, but he also said that the FBI would be willing to jettison its authority to use national security letters if it is granted the power to use administrative subpoenas to collect the same information.

This is a very bad idea. During his tenure, Mueller has made any number of promises to Congress – including a promise made during the hearings on re-authorization of the Act that he would not allow abuse of the power he now admits his agency abused – and somebody’s going to have to point me toward a single one of them he’s actually kept because I can’t find it. Dianne Feinstein rightly complained that there’s no excuse for the lack of supervision Mueller now takes responsibility for.

“This was a very controversial addition to the Patriot Act,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said about the FBI’s authority to use the national security letters. “There were many members that had deep concerns about this. The language was negotiated. We were very specifically trying to put in checks and balances. And then it appears they all just melted into oblivion with sloppy administration.”

Again, Sen Feinstein, it was NOT “sloppy”. It was deliberate. Continue reading

The FBI and NSLs 4: Not Operating in a Vacuum

The FBI is still pretending that their use of National Security Letters (NSLs) to obtain information unconnected in any way with national security was a matter of sloppy paperwork and/or “haste”, excuses that don’t even begin to explain either the high numbers of “mistakes” or the constant lies.

FBI agents repeatedly provided inaccurate information to win secret court approval of surveillance warrants in terrorism and espionage cases, prompting officials to tighten controls on the way the bureau uses that powerful anti-terrorism tool, according to Justice Department and FBI officials.

The errors were pervasive enough that the chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, wrote the Justice Department in December 2005 to complain. She raised the possibility of requiring counterterrorism agents to swear in her courtroom that the information they were providing was accurate, a procedure that could have slowed such investigations drastically.

Forced to acknowledge the extent of the abuses (as many as 10% of the warrants contained inaccuracies, and possibly a lot more – exact numbers aren’t yet available although IG Fine estimates that as many as 3000 violations may have occurred over the last 3 years), the FBI’s management has moved from minimizing the problem to blaming poor supervision.

In the use of both national security letters and the FISA warrant applications, officials acknowledged that the problems resulted from agents’ haste or sloppiness — or both — and that there was inadequate supervision.”We’ve oftentimes been better at setting the rules than we have been at establishing the internal controls and audits necessary to enforce them,” FBI Assistant Director John Miller said.

But they didn’t “set the rules”, that’s the whole point. What we have here is a process that ignored the rules to get what it wanted. The very same “mistakes” were made on surveillance warrants as were made on NSLs, so the argument that the NSLs got screwed up because agents weren’t used to using them is bullshit.

And what can you say about the idea that after 50 years FBI agents still don’t know how to fill out a surveillance request correctly without supervision?

As disturbing as the lies and weak excuses are, what’s even more disturbing are the way and the reasons they were used. Continue reading

The Myth of Corporate-Style Governing 6: Corporate/Prosecutor Purges

Mark Gisleson has a brilliant post up at Norwegianity explaining how standard corporate power-plays are at the bottom of the Gonzales 8 Scandal.

In this matter, and all personnel matters, transparency is key. That which will not withstand scrutiny, of necessity becomes a matter of veils and subterfuge, just as we’re now discovering with the fired U.S. Attorneys. In not one case are we learning that the fired U.S. Attorney in question had done anything but an exemplary job. But therein lays the rub — our corporatized administration has done pretty much what corporate execs usually do: they lied and cheated, and now they’ve been caught red-handed thanks to incriminating emails and lower-ranking officials who’ve seen plenty of examples of people like themselves being thrown overboard by the Bushies when push came to shucking a perjury charge.

In the corporate world, it’s next to impossible to stop top higher ups from doing pretty much anything they like short of raping their administrative assistants in a public area of the building. And ending that “privilege” of rank wasn’t easy, as any woman over forty can tell you. Government, however, is not business, and the Bushies in their consumate [sic] arrogance forgot they were leaving paper trails, and that they were dealing with powerful individuals who have powerful friends.

***

Frankly, I despair of ever ridding American corporations of the dumbfuck idea that a loyal monoculture is best for business. No, it’s the best way to make sure that at some future point the company goes down the toilet because of 1) lawbreaking by corporate officers, 2) short-term thinking that destroys long-term business, or 3) any of a number of other unforseen consequences of actions that would have been flagged were the decision-making process open to a more diverse group of people, like actual human beings, for example.

So, unsurprisingly the Bushies tried to claim all the fired USAs were fired for cause. Dumbfuck idea #1, as the Bushies failed to plant said evidence in any of the USAs’ personnel files, and all in fact had excellent performance evaluations on record. Further efforts in that regard are also blowing up in the Bushies’ faces because the proper foundation (i.e., planting of phony work evaluations and written criticisms) wasn’t laid.

Go read the rest. And remember it the next time somebody insists that govt ought to be run like a business – when it is, baaaaad things happen.

The FBI and NSLs 3: How High Does it Go?

Yesterday I asked a couple of simple and, I thought, fairly obvious questions:

Were there any lawyers among the dozen members of the elite CAU [Communications Analysis Unit – MA] responsible for the NSLs? If so, why didn’t they respond to the concerns of the Bureau’s legal staff? And even if there weren’t, how could a slew of “counter-terrorism experts” fail to notice when asking for emergency powers that there was no actual terrorist emergency?

To answer the second question, it turns out there were and they didn’t. In fact, Bassem Youssef, a CT expert with a covert background and several successes to his credit, was in charge of the CAU at the time and says he not only noticed, he “raised concerns with superiors”.

Stephen M. Kohn, the lawyer for Mr. Youssef, said his client told his superiors that the bureau had frequently failed to document an urgent national security need — proving “exigent circumstances,” in the bureau’s language — when obtaining personal information without a court order through the use of “national security letters.”

Mr. Youssef said his superiors had initially minimized the scope of the problem and the likely violation of laws intended to protect privacy, Mr. Kohn said.

“He identified the problems in 2005, shortly after he became unit chief,” Mr. Kohn said. “As in other matters, he was met with apathy and resistance.”

***

Mr. Kohn said that Mr. Youssef had had a long familiarity with national security letters from earlier work on counterterrorism investigations, and that he began reviewing recent letters and spotting legal deficiencies almost immediately.

“It was the same issue that was in the inspector general’s report,” Mr. Kohn said Sunday. “They didn’t have the proper legal justifications in writing to back up their searches.”

If Mr Youssef was in charge of the CAU and most of the disputed NSLs were submitted by the CAU, why didn’t he simply stop them? Why didn’t he call in the agents who were improperly filing and sending the NSLs and order them to correct the procedure or cease using them?

To answer those questions, we have to know the answers to two other key questions:

  1. Who were the “superiors” in question? Mueller? Or does it go higher?
  2. Why did Youssef feel it necessary to express his “concerns” about the NSLs to them? It was his department, he was in charge, why not just end the abuse?

Continue reading

The FBI and NSLs 2: The “Accident” Excuse Unravels (Updated)

As predicted, the DoJ IG’s conclusion that the FBI’s illegal use of NSLs did not constitute a crime is being called into question, and by a Republican no less.

Referring to the exigent circumstance letters, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) wrote in a letter Friday to Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine: “It is . . . difficult to imagine why there should not have been swift and severe consequences for anyone who knowingly signed . . . a letter containing false statements. Anyone at the FBI who knew about that kind of wrongdoing had an obligation to put a stop to it and report it immediately.”

Yes, of course they did, but report it to who? Alberto?

Charlie’s sudden concern for the possibly illegal use of the NSLs after 6 years of sitting obediently on his ass and watching the Bush Administration and the Justice Dept play fast-and-loose with the Constitution arose yesterday when it came to light that the FBI’s own legal staff were expressing doubts about the way the NSLs were being handled as early as 2004.

Continue reading

The FBI and NSLs: Not “Accidental”

The DoJ IG’s report has ignited a sort of firestorm both in the mainstream press and in Congress. Although it hasn’t yet reached the stage of the Justice 8 Purge, the FBI’s “misuse” of NSLs has excited widespread condemnation, an abject apology from FBI Director Robert Mueller, and a Congressional investigation. The issues, however, as Glenn Greenwald points out in this post, are just as serious, maybe more so.

In those isolated cases where we learn about what the administration has been doing in secret, or where Congress pretends to demand information, the administration refuses to provide any actual information (see, e.g., the NSA scandal ). Instead, they simply issue boilerplate assurances that the law is being complied with, that the powers are being exercised responsibly and properly, that there is no abuse, and that they have created ample “safeguards” (always within the Executive Branch) to ensure that no abuse occurs. Whatever isolated instances of abuse or impropriety end up being leaked are dismissed away as pure aberrations, the work of bad apples, and they profess how gravely concerned they are about such abuses and assure us that they are working diligently to ensure they never occur again.

And that is always the end of the story. No claims by the Bush administration have been meaningfully investigated because the authoritarian sickness that has governed our country has meant that there is blind faith in the representations made by the President, with no corroboration or investigation needed.

In the case of the NSLs, for instance, the DOJ — after the Post article on NSLs was published — repeatedly insisted to Congress when it was debating re-authorization of the Patriot Act in November, 2005, that the claims in the Post story were false. As but one example, the DOJ sent a letter, from Assistant Attorney General William Moschella to House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Sensenbrenner, accusing the Post of presenting a “materially misleading portrayal” of the FBI’s use of national security letters (I am attempting to find that original Moschella letter; if you find it online, please leave the link in comments or by e-mail).

Obviously (as even the DOJ is now being forced to acknowledge), the attacks on the Post article by the DOJ were simply false. If anything, the Post article under-stated the problems with the NSLs. The DOJ simply gave false assurances to Congress that there were no problems with the FBI’s use of NSLs and assured Congress that all regulations and laws were being complied with. Those claims were lies, designed to steamroll over concerns about the NSLs and induce the Congress to re-authorize the Patriot Act, which it did.

US Asst AG Richard Hertling has now sent Sens Patrick Leahy and Arlen Specter a letter – get this – retracting his previous letters of assurance that all was well. Glenn quotes from the letter and then translates what it means:

In other words: all of those assurances we gave you in order to convince you that we were using NSLs in strict accordance with the law were false. Now that the IG Report proves that what we told you is false, we are retracting what we said, and when we get around to it, we will also correct the false testimony we gave at Congressional hearings and the false assurances we gave you in secret, classified meetings — all of which successfully convinced you to re-authorize the Patriot Act.

Greenwald is properly sarcastic as he dismisses the DOJ’s incredible response, a Lost in Space mea culpa in the tone of a high school sophomore apologizing to a teacher for copying the wrong citation in his term paper – “Too bad but it’s no big fucking deal, chief, so chill out. At least I did the damn thing.”

But there’s a problem just as big that Glenn (so far) only hints at.

Continue reading

The Justice 8: How Dumb Do the Bushies Think We Are? (Updated)

Six of the eight US Attorneys fired by the Justice Dept testified all day yesterday, first in the House and then in the Senate, describing in detail how their dismissals came about. There wasn’t all that much that was new, frankly. Most of it simply confirmed what had been written in the press and a lot of the speculation in the blogosphere.

Six fired U.S. attorneys testified on Capitol Hill yesterday that they had separately been the target of complaints, improper telephone calls and thinly veiled threats from a high-ranking Justice Department official or members of Congress, both before and after they were abruptly removed from their jobs.

In back-to-back hearings in the Senate and House, former U.S. attorney David C. Iglesias of New Mexico and five other former prosecutors recounted specific instances in which some said they felt pressured by Republicans on corruption cases and one said a Justice Department official warned him to keep quiet or face retaliation.

Pretty much what we figured had happened, knowing the Bush Administration as well as we do at this point. What’s been more interesting have been the responses from Justice as the case has opened up – and the lack of response from anybody higher than Assistant Attorney General William Moschella. Why don’t we start with him before we go on to Domenici and Heather Wilson, since he testified yesterday as well.

The JD has been doing the Reagan Three-Step: Continue reading

Bush Privacy Board Clears Bush

Well, boys and girls, if you were concerned about the Constitutional violations of the PATRIOT Act wherein the Bush Administration wiretapped millions of Americans, instituted surveillance on thousands more, and intercepted the financial transactions of who knows how many, you can relax. It’s all good. So sayeth the five-members of the White House Privacy and Civil Liberties Board.

A White House privacy board is giving its stamp of approval to two of the Bush administration’s controversial surveillance programs – electronic eavesdropping and financial tracking – and says they do not violate citizens’ civil liberties.

Of course, those slimy Democrats aren’t satisfied.

Democrats newly in charge of Congress quickly criticized the findings, which they said were questionable given some of the board members’ close ties with the Bush administration.

“Their current findings and any additional conclusions they reach will be taken with a grain of salt until they become fully independent,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee.

Tsk-tsk. Such suspicion. What have they got to be so suspicious about? I’m sure someone as deeply concerned about protecting the privacy of Americans as Bush claims to be would never load the Board up with political hacks and family friends who would give anything he did a pass no matter how offensive or even illegal it might be, right? Continue reading

8th US Attorney Fired

The round of US Attorney firings continues as USAG Alberto Gonzales punishes them for insufficient genuflection to the neocon agenda, only now, after criticism by Democrats and the press that no reasons had been given, so-far-unfired prosecutors are offering excuses, lame though they might be.

An eighth U.S. attorney announced her resignation yesterday, the latest in a wave of forced departures of federal prosecutors who have clashed with the Justice Department over the death penalty and other issues.

Margaret Chiara, the 63-year-old U.S. attorney in Grand Rapids, Mich., told her staff that she was leaving her post after more than five years, officials said. Sources familiar with the case confirmed that she was among a larger group of prosecutors who were first asked to resign Dec. 7. (emphasis added)

What “other issues”? The only reason Alberto ever gave was “performance issues”, whatever they are. That covers a lot of ground. Continue reading

Edmonds Charges Substantiated

According to the NYT, a secret DoJ investigation has concluded that Sybel Edmonds was, indeed, fired for blowing the whistle on sloppy FBI oversight of its translators.

WASHINGTON, July 28 – A classified Justice Department investigation has concluded that a former F.B.I. translator at the center of a growing controversy was dismissed in part because she accused the bureau of ineptitude, and it found that the F.B.I. did not aggressively investigate her claims of espionage against a co-worker.The Justice Department’s inspector general concluded that the allegations by the translator, Sibel Edmonds, “were at least a contributing factor in why the F.B.I. terminated her services,” and the F.B.I. is considering disciplinary action against some employees as a result, Robert S. Mueller III, director of the bureau, said in a letter last week to lawmakers. A copy of the letter was obtained by The New York Times.


Given the tight secrecy surrounding the case, “one could argue that Mueller himself disclosed classified material” by quoting from a still-secret Justice Department report, said one congressional official who spoke on condition of anonymity.In his letter, Mr. Mueller said he was pleased that the office of the inspector general “had not concluded that the F.B.I. retaliated against Ms. Edmonds when it terminated her services on April 2, 2002.” At the same time, he said, “I was concerned by the O.I.G.’s conclusion that Ms. Edmonds’ allegations ‘were at least a contributing factor in why the F.B.I. terminated her services.’ ”

He said the F.B.I. would work with the inspector general to determine whether any employees should be disciplined as a result. And he emphasized that he wanted to encourage all F.B.I. employees to “raise good faith concerns about mismanagement or misconduct” without fear of reprisals or intimidation.

The letter did not say what other factors, if any, beyond Ms. Edmonds’s accusations may have played a part in the decision to dismiss her. In the past, federal officials have suggested that her allegations had nothing to do with her dismissal, pointing instead to what they described as her “disruptive” presence in the field office.

The inspector general “also criticized the F.B.I.’s failure to adequately pursue Ms. Edmonds’s allegations of espionage as they related to one of her colleagues,” Mr. Mueller said in his letter.

The J Edgar Hoover Legacy Marches On: Silence the critics, then fire them. The next step is to trash their reputations.

So the Plame investigation is coming to a head and now the Edmonds investigation is about to generate some steam. Meanwhile, the investigation of Halliburton continues, Kenny-boy’s trial is about to begin (they must have picked the jurors by now), and questions are circulating about Cheney’s actual relationship with his old company. This is sure going to be a fun summer for the Bush Team, and the fall should be full of surprises.

The Bush-Stretch

by Kryton

From the San Diego Union-Tribune:

Justice Department Says It Can’t Share Lobbying Data Because Computer System Will Crash
By Ted Bridis Associated Press WriterWASHINGTON (AP) – The Bush administration is offering a novel reason for denying a request seeking the Justice Department’s database on foreign lobbyists: Copying the information would bring down the computer system.

“Implementing such a request risks a crash that cannot be fixed and could result in a major loss of data, which would be devastating,” wrote Thomas J. McIntyre, chief in the Justice Department’s office for information requests.

Advocates for open government said the government’s assertion that it could not copy data from its computers was unprecedented but representative of generally negative responses to Freedom of Information Act requests.

“This was a new one on us. We weren’t aware there were databases that could be destroyed just by copying them,” Bob Williams of the Center for Public Integrity said Tuesday. The watchdog group in Washington made the request in January. He said the group expects to appeal the Justice Department’s decision.

Many Justice Department computer systems, especially at the FBI, are considered outdated. The FBI is spending nearly $600 million to modernize its antiquated systems.

The Center for Public Integrity sought information about lobbying activities available under the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act, a 1938 law passed in response to German propaganda before World War II. Database records describe details of meetings among foreign lobbyists, the administration and Congress, and payments by foreign governments and some overseas groups for political advertisements and other campaigns.

“What they’re asking for is a lot, and it’s not something at this particular point in time we have the technical ability to do,” Justice Department spokesman Bryan Sierra said Tuesday.

McIntyre explained in a May 24 letter that the computer system – operated in the counterespionage section of the Justice Department’s criminal division – “was not designed for mass export of all stored images” and said the system experiences “substantial problems.”

Well why not down load one of each requested archive and then turn those into hard copy and duplicate them? What’s with this all or nothing “was not designed for mass export of all stored images.”

What’s perhaps even scarier about that sentence is that they are claiming that they don’t backup their database!

A backup is a “mass export of all stored images”…

However, I have this odd suspicion that they do backups regularly, but just don’t want to give up the info… I can’t imagine why…

“It sounds like incredible negligence for an agency that is keeping public records to keep them in such a precarious condition,” said Stephen Doig, interim director at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University. “I’ve never heard the excuse that making the equivalent of a backup copy would somehow cause steam to rise out of the computer.”The government said an overhaul of the system should be finished by December and copies should be available then.

After the election? What a remarkable coincidence.

Paper copies of records still are available for review four hours each day for people willing to travel to Washington, the Justice Department noted. Williams said the index available to researchers there is at least 12 months outdated, “which kind of renders it useless.”Attorney General John Ashcroft ordered federal agencies in October 2001 to review more closely which documents they release. Ashcroft’s policy lets officials withhold information on any “sound legal basis.” Under looser policies issued in 1993, agencies could hold back information to prevent “foreseeable harm.”

“This is an administration and Justice is an agency that does not go out of its way to make information available to the public,” said David Sobel, general counsel for the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center.

[Put this down as one of today’s biggest understatements along with the NYT headline that says Powell ‘Sees Hints of Disaster in Sudan’. ‘Hints’, that’s a good one.–MA]

Arrested for Videotaping a Building

A report in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer tells the story of a Nepalese man who was thrown into prison under the PATRIOT Act for accidentally videotaping the building in NYC where the FBI has its HQ.

NEW YORK — It took no more than a week for James P. Wynne, a veteran FBI investigator, to confirm the harmless truth that only now, more than two years later, he is ready to talk about. The small foreign man he helped arrest for videotaping outside a tall office building in Queens on Oct. 25, 2001, was no terrorist.Yet Purna Raj Bajracharya was swallowed up in the government’s new maximum-security system of secret detention and secret hearings for three months, and his only friend was Wynne, the same FBI agent who had helped decide to put him there.

Bajracharya, 47, was a Buddhist from Nepal planning to return there after five years of odd jobs at places such as a Queens pizzeria and a Manhattan flower shop. He was videotaping New York street scenes to take back to his wife and sons in Katmandu. And he had no clue that the tall building in his viewfinder happened to include an office of the FBI.

When Wynne filed his FBI report a few days later, the Nepalese man, who spoke almost no English, had been placed in solitary confinement at a federal detention center in Brooklyn just for videotaping.

The article gives a pretty good picture of how Ashcroft’s JD is using–or mis-using–its new powers and how ‘byzantine’ the system has become. And what do they use to excuse this malfeasance? You guessed it:

Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said that although he was unfamiliar with the case, the system of secrecy that Bajracharya encountered is lawful and necessary. “The idea that someone who has violated our immigration laws may be of interest on a national security level as well is an unfortunate reality, post- 9/11,” he said.

Bajracharya was jailed for three months ‘in a 6-by-9-foot cell kept lighted 24 hours a day.’ Welcome to neo-America, Baj.

Ashcroft’s Law

When you’re the law, you don’t have to explain anything if you don’t want to. That seems to be Motto #1 for high-ranking members of the Bush Admin.

# Cheney insists there’s an Al Qaeda/Saddam connection even after the 9/11 Commission proves there isn’t. Why? Because he says so. What’s the evidence? He won’t say but it’s ‘overwhelming’.

# Bush says his Veep is right. Hussein had ‘terrorist connections’ to AQ. Why? Because he says so. What’s the evidence? He won’t say.

# Rumsfeld, caught breaking the law by agreeing to hide a prisoner from the Red Cross, says he didn’t have to report this prisoner because he was ‘in a different category’. Different how? ‘Just different,’ he says.

And now we come to Ashcroft, who took over the cameras personally yesterday in order to announce the arrest of the first private US contractor to be prosecuted for taking part in the torture at Abu Ghraib. In appropriately stentorian tones of official, not to say officious, disapproval of such a heinous crime, Ashcroft prattled on for some time about his Admin’s ‘respect for the rule of law’ and how this prosecution proved his ‘commitment to justice’, and it was all very impressive–or would have been except for three tiny little problems hardly worth mentioning:

1) It was Ashcroft and his DoJ who formulated the legal defense for using torture in the first place;

2) The contractor isn’t being charged with torture, primarily to prevent his lawyer from bringing up 1) in court as part of his defense;

3) Ashcroft’s ‘commitment to justice’ is right now being highlighted in a completely different case in which he is fighting to deport a Saudi man married to an American woman. Why does he want to deport him? Because, he says, the man knew a guy who knew a guy who may have known a guy who knew two of the 9/11 hijackers, or something almost as tenuous.

To understand how far the federal government will go to justify targeting individuals in its war on terror, look no further than the case of Hasan Saddiq Faseh Alddin.


Arrested outside the home of an elderly woman he takes care of, he was publicly linked in a press release from the Department of Homeland Security to the two San Diego hijackers, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar — albeit one step removed. In its release, the department said Alddin was believed to have roomed with a close friend of the hijackers. Department officials did not call Alddin a terrorist, but their largest investigative arm, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said it had been investigating Alddin ever since Sept. 11 and wanted him out of the U.S., citing two misdemeanor convictions for spousal battery in 1998 and 2000 as grounds for deportation.Now targeted for deportation, the married father of two is an example of how the government is unapologetically using whatever tools it can to deport foreigners it contends are a threat. And it is doing so without revealing what it says is secret evidence, citing minor crimes that would have gone unnoticed by federal officials before Sept. 11

Alddin is, they say, a ‘danger to America’, but they won’t say why.

“They’re not saying he’s a terrorist,” said Lauren Mack, ICE spokeswoman in San Diego. “They’re just saying they can’t say publicly why [the case] is a national security concern.”

Ah. Well, that clears it up. Off with his head. But wait–Alattas, the supposed connection between Alldin and the hijackers, left the US almost 2 years before the attacks, a year or so before the attack plans were even decided on.

A month after their arrival, Alhazmi and Almihdhar moved in with Alattas for about two weeks, maybe longer, the friends said. They said Alattas gave up his apartment that same month, when he returned to live in Saudi Arabia.The friends said it is unlikely that he had prior knowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks. They said he left the country in February 2000, more than 1 1/2 years before the attacks. They describe him as a Muslim who liked the Western lifestyle and was hardly a religious zealot. Ill-disciplined, they said, Alattas used his apartment as a gathering place for recently arrived young Muslim men who would join him in watching pornography and smoking marijuana — vices that made him an unlikely recruit for Al Qaeda.

Oops.

But it doesn’t matter. The DoJ wants him gone and that’s that. Why?

Because they say so, that’s why. This is John Ashcroft’s America where people are guilty because he says they are and that’s all the explanation he has to give anybody. ‘National security’, you know.

Ashcroft Overstepping Again

John Ashcroft has accused an Ohio man of plotting to blow up a mall on so little evidence that it amounts to wishful thinking–or his imagination.

Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the indictment at a Justice Department news conference, repeating his warnings about the threat posed by Al Qaeda. “Current credible intelligence indicates that Al Qaeda wants to hit the United States and to hit us hard,” Mr. Ashcroft said. “We know our enemies will go to great lengths to lie in wait and to achieve the death and destruction they desire.”The indictment against Mr. Abdi makes no mention of the alleged plot to blow up a shopping mall. That reference was contained in the motion filed by prosecutors to keep Mr. Abdi in custody. The government’s motion said that Mr. Abdi, Mr. Faris and other co-conspirators “initiated a plot to blow up a Columbus area shopping mall, and accepted bomb-making instructions from one of those co-conspirators.”

Their evidence for these charges amounts to nothing more than the fact that Abdi made an unscheduled trip to Ethiopia. They claim he went ‘to study what one government document in the case described as “radio usage, guns, guerrilla warfare, bombs and ‘anything to damage the enemy,’ ” ‘ but they’ve offered zero proof he did any such thing. In the wake of that joke of a trial in Utah and the travesty in Oregon, both of which cases Ashcroft lost because the JD couldn’t produce any evidence whatever that any of their charges had a basis in anything resembling a hard fact, these new accusations have to be taken with a large beaker of salt. As usual, Kathy at Random Thoughts sums up the situation cogently.

So here’s the problem. I don’t believe Ashcroft. I don’t know if information he released is true or if he’s stretching the truth for political gain. I don’t know if this guy is really a terrorist or just a poor immigrant who was fingered by a prisoner that was being tortured or tempted. I don’t know if he really violated immigration law or if Ashcroft found it convenient to say so, since then he can lock the guy up indefinitely with no due process. I don’t know if the intelligence they’re using as a basis of arrest is credible. I don’t know if he really did get military training in Ethiopia or if he got religious instruction. I don’t know if there was really a plot to bomb a mall since there’s no evidence of it except maybe a roving wiretap that caught a bad joke or two. I don’t know if this guy is a terrorist or a dupe.I do know one thing. If we can’t trust the public pronouncements of the Attorney General of the United States, we’ve got a problem

Um, Kath? We’ve got a problem….

Addendum: Krugman on Ashcroft

No question: John Ashcroft is the worst attorney general in history.


For an example of changing the subject, consider the origins of the Jose Padilla case. There was no publicity when Mr. Padilla was arrested in May 2002. But on June 6, 2002, Coleen Rowley gave devastating Congressional testimony about failures at the F.B.I. (which reports to Mr. Ashcroft) before 9/11. Four days later, Mr. Ashcroft held a dramatic press conference and announced that Mr. Padilla was involved in a terrifying plot. Instead of featuring Ms. Rowley, news magazine covers ended up featuring the “dirty bomber” who Mr. Ashcroft said was plotting to kill thousands with deadly radiation.Since then Mr. Padilla has been held as an “enemy combatant” with no legal rights. But Newsweek reports that “administration officials now concede that the principal claim they have been making about Padilla ever since his detention — that he was dispatched to the United States for the specific purpose of setting off a radiological `dirty bomb’ — has turned out to be wrong and most likely can never be used in court.”


Last week Mr. Ashcroft, apparently in contempt of Congress, refused to release a memo on torture his department prepared for the White House almost two years ago. Fortunately, his stonewalling didn’t work: The Washington Post has acquired a copy of the memo and put it on its Web site.Much of the memo is concerned with defining torture down: if the pain inflicted on a prisoner is less than the pain that accompanies “serious physical injury, such as organ failure,” it’s not torture. Anyway, the memo declares that the federal law against torture doesn’t apply to interrogations of enemy combatants “pursuant to [the president’s] commander-in-chief authority.” In other words, the president is above the law.

The memo came out late Sunday. Mr. Ashcroft called a press conference yesterday — to announce an indictment against a man accused of plotting to blow up a shopping mall in Ohio. The timing was, I’m sure, purely coincidental.

Go read the rest.

Protecting the PATRIOTs

John Ashcroft, in a blatant attempt to influence the Supreme Court’s decision in the Padilla case, has released material it claimed at the trial was too ‘secret’ to disclose publicly. Apparently the DoJ’s interior SCOTUS count is telling them the govt’s patently un-Constitutional claim is going down in flames. After first insisting that Padilla was part of a ‘conspiracy to explode a “dirty” radioactive bomb in New York or Washington’, a charge they had to later withdraw because IT WASN’T TRUE, now they’re claiming that Padilla ‘had planned to target apartment buildings and hotels’. Any more truth to that charge? Probably not, why should there be?

But the really interesting pasrt is that the gloves are off. The Bushies aren’t even pretending any more.

When asked about the suspicious timing of the news conference after two years of claiming absolute secrecy, [Deputy Asst Atty Gen James] Comey denied that the Justice Department was trying to influence the Supreme Court, instead saying it was merely trying to influence “the court of public opinion.”In a moment of extraordinary and chilling honesty, Comey explained that Padilla had to be stripped of his civil liberties because, if he used them (including his right to remain silent or his right to a lawyer), he might have been able to win his freedom. Thus, the government had to keep him away from lawyers and judges at all costs. Gone was the pretense of legality or principle. The Justice Department had finally found its natural moral resting point: Civil liberties are tolerated only to the extent that they will not interfere with the government’s actions. Meanwhile, Zacarias Moussaoui, a foreign citizen accused of terrorism, was presumably given his rights in federal court because, given the case against him, the government thought those rights would do him little good.

The administration seems to believe that the public and O’Connor will not worry about others’ rights when they are contemplating their own demise from terrorist attacks. It might be right. When Comey described Padilla in absentia as some terrorist barking out confessions, no one seemed to mind that the Justice Department had turned a U.S. citizen into a presidential plaything to be manipulated for short-term political gain. The message was clear: If we don’t strip some citizens of their rights, your apartment building might collapse.

Uh-huh. Well, that’s a fair trade, right? The Dept of Injustice protects [its] rights. Yours are, uh, not very important.

Is the fact that they’re not even bothering to hide it any more a sign that they’re certain no one will notice? Or that they’ve grown so powerful they don’t care any more whether we notice or not because there’s nothing we can do about it? Or so desperate to get this decision that they have to come out out in the open?

Maybe the last. If they lose Padilla, the rest of the PATRIOT Act is in real legal trouble.