- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 5, 2001

A top Justice Department official yesterday defended before a Senate committee the department's aggressive anti-terrorism stance, calling it part of a "fundamental redefinition" of the agency's mission, aimed at detecting and disrupting future attacks.

"September 11 was a wake-up call to America and, indeed, to freedom-loving people around the world," said Assistant Attorney General Viet D. Dinh, who heads the department's Office of Legal Policy. "The enemy we confront is a multinational network of evil that is fanatically committed to the slaughter of innocents.

"Unlike ordinary criminals the department has investigated and prosecuted in the past, terrorists are willing to give up their own lives to take the lives of thousands of innocent citizens. We cannot wait for them to execute their plans; the death toll is too high; the consequences are too great," he told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The testimony was a warm-up to hearings scheduled tomorrow when Attorney General John Ashcroft will address concerns by Democrats and civil liberties groups that the department has gone too far in its anti-terrorism investigations.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and committee chairman, along with others, has questioned the department's decision to interrogate 5,000 foreigners, to listen in on the conversations of some federal prisoners and to detain more than 600 persons in the ongoing investigation.

Mr. Dinh said the department, in an effort to respond to terrorism, has used "all information available, all authorized investigative techniques, and all the legal authorities at our disposal."

Mr. Dinh said the investigation has followed constitutional, statutory and regulatory standards, adding that the department will not permit, and has not permitted, "our values to fall victim to the terrorist attacks of September 11."

He said:

•As of Monday, 608 persons were in federal custody on criminal or immigration charges growing out of the investigation of the September 11 attacks. Of that total, 55 were being held on criminal charges; the remaining 553 were being detained on immigration charges.

He said each of the detentions "is fully consistent with established constitutional and statutory authority," adding that all those in custody have been charged with a violation of either immigration law or criminal law, or is the subject of a material witness warrant issued by a court. All of them have access to a lawyer.

•The 5,000 interviews are voluntary and involve persons who may have information on terrorist activity. He said their names were sent to terrorism task forces as part of the department's campaign to get information that might be helpful or could disrupt terrorist activity.

He said the names were compiled using "common-sense criteria" that take into account the manner in which Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist group has traditionally operated. He said the list includes individuals who entered the United States with a passport from a foreign country in which al Qaeda has operated or recruited; who entered the country after Jan. 1; and who are males between 18 and 33.

•In monitoring the communications of a "very small group of the most dangerous federal detainees," the department has included "important procedural safeguards to protect the attorney-client privilege." He said the detainee and the attorney will be notified in writing that their communication will be monitored and that the government will have to obtain court approval to monitor the conversations.

"The Justice Department has two objectives in the war on terrorism: to protect innocent American lives, and to safeguard the liberties for which America stands. We have enhanced our national security by immobilizing suspected terrorists before they are able to strike," he said.

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