Exclusive: DOJ papers show terrorist hunt

By MARK BENJAMIN and NICHOLAS HORROCK, United Press International  |  Nov. 26, 2001 at 8:06 PM
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 26 (UPI) -- Citizens from Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and many other countries face a raft of immigration charges and criminal indictments voted by federal grand juries as the government pursues terrorists, according to Justice Department documents obtained by United Press International.

These indictments and immigration charges arose out of the investigation into the Sept. 11 terror attacks against New York and Washington, which killed nearly 4,000 people.

There were no charges directly relating to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and no charges connecting to hijacking.

Charges against the individuals include an Egyptian citizen who is accused of illegally entering the country "at or near Laredo, Texas," and range from presenting false information to purchasing an automatic pistol in Virginia to possessing pornographic pictures on the hard drive of computers.

Other individuals, like one citizen of Pakistan who is a native of Kuwait, violated the conditions of their student visas, according to the documents, which were delivered to Congress last week.

But the Justice Department redacted key information from the 300 pages -- including the names of the individuals not indicted -- angering lawmakers just days before the Senate Judiciary Committee is set to begin hearings on protecting civil liberties in the war against terrorism.

Attorney General John Ashcroft Monday said he would not release the names in order to protect the individuals' privacy. "The law properly prevents the department from creating a public blacklist of detainees that would violate their rights," Ashcroft said.

The documents include more than 36 separate indictments voted by federal grand juries from Virginia to Arizona. The charges are as disparate as the locales.

Most of the individuals charged had Middle Eastern, Pakistani or African names, but there were individuals of Mexican descent and others with European sounding names. And most of the charges were for knowingly presenting false information to obtain driver's licenses and other forms of identification or lying to federal officers about their nationality or country of origin.

One man was charged with trying to board an airliner with a small knife in his pencil case. He was an accountant and said he used it to sharpen the pencils in the case.

However, the majority of the charges appeared to have arisen while or after the suspects were questioned by authorities or during searches of their residence. For instance, one man was charged with possession and intent to distribute a controlled substance, in this case an anabolic steroid in violation federal drug laws.

The man had a Middle Eastern name and had a fraudulent visa. A search of his apartment discovered the drugs.

Several persons were charged with fraudulent marriages designed to grant an alien residence privileges as the spouse of an American citizen.

It was not clear from the documents how many of these persons were in custody or whether any of the cases had gone to trial. In two of the indictments, it appeared the FBI might be still looking for the suspect.

Democrats on the House and Senate Judiciary Committees Oct. 31 wrote Ashcroft requesting information on what they said could be more than 1,000 individuals detained by the government in its investigation. But the Nov. 16 response from the Department of Justice -- and the enclosed 300 pages of material -- contain little of the information Congress sought. The response has further fueled concern among lawmakers that the government might be trampling on civil liberties in the war on terrorism.

Those Democrats had sought the names and charges against detained individuals, details on legal representation for detainees, and information on efforts by the government to keep proceedings under seal, among other things.

"I am disappointed in the Justice Department's response to our letter," Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., said last week upon receiving the documents. "I look forward to a full response ... from the Justice Department and to speaking directly with the attorney general about these issues when he next appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee."

According to the Nov. 16 letter from Assistant Attorney General Daniel J. Bryant, "We do not maintain records responsive to your request on individuals who have been arrested or detained on state or local criminal charges." Bryant also argued that the redactions in the 300 pages delivered to Congress are to protect the "privacy interests" of the detained individuals.

Some Republicans have begun to join Democrats in congressional scrutiny of the administration's war on terrorism.

Senate Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., voiced concern on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday over the Justice Department's plan to monitor some communications between suspects and their attorneys. Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has also agreed with that committee's chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, R-Vt., that Attorney General John Ashcroft needs to come to the Senate himself to answer questions.

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