- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Terrorists belonging to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network are among the 603 persons in Justice Department custody in the investigation of the September 11 attacks on America, Attorney General John Ashcroft said yesterday.
A defiant Mr. Ashcroft, under fire from Democrats and civil rights groups for his steadfast refusal to identify those in custody, said those persons were detained to disrupt terrorist activities and protect Americans.
"The Department of Justice is waging a deliberate campaign of arrest and detention to protect American lives. We're removing suspected terrorists who violate the law from our streets to prevent further terrorist attacks," he said at a press conference. "We believe we have al Qaeda membership in custody, and we will use every constitutional tool to keep suspected terrorists locked up."
Mr. Ashcroft, in his most detailed accounting of those now in custody, said the department has named 104 persons on federal criminal charges, 55 of whom remain in custody.
He also said 548 persons are being held on immigration charges, all of whom were arrested as part of the investigation into the September 11 attacks. At least 10 of those held on immigration charges also have been named on criminal charges.
Justice Department figures released yesterday show that of the 548 persons held on immigration violations, 213 came to this country from Pakistan. The vast majority of the others also are from the Middle East, including Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Iran, Algeria, Morocco, Syria, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.
Being held at various lockup facilities nationwide including New York, where some are being questioned by the Justice Department's terrorism task force those in custody on immigration charges have been accused of a vast range of suspected crimes, from misuse of a passport to fraud.
Some were arrested after being found in possession of box cutters similar to those used by the terrorists who crashed three jetliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
More than 1,182 persons have been arrested since the September 11 attacks, although more than 400 have since been cleared and released. Forty-nine others face federal charges and are being sought or are free on bail.
In response to claims by Democrats that the Justice Department has refused to identify those being held on immigration charges, Mr. Ashcroft said that while the department made public some of the immigration-charging documents with certain identifying information redacted, he would not release the names.
"It would not be responsible for us, in a time of war, when our objective is to save American lives, to advertise to the opposing side that we have al Qaeda membership in custody," he said. "When the United States is at war, I will not share valuable intelligence with our enemies. We might as well mail this list to the Osama bin Laden al Qaeda network as to release it.
"The al Qaeda network may be able to get information about which terrorists we have in our custody, but they'll have to get it on their own and get it from someone other than me," he said.
A key congressional critic of the administration's security crackdown last night said he was unsatisfied with the attorney general's explanations and defenses.
"I continue to be deeply troubled by [the Justice Departments] refusal to provide a full accounting of everyone who has been detained and why," said Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat.
Mr. Ashcroft also denied that the civil rights of those in custody had been violated. He said the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service assisted detainees with information on how to obtain free counsel and that those in custody had the right to make phone calls to family or attorneys.
He also said the detainees could make their own identities public, noting there was no "gag order" preventing them from doing so.
Mr. Ashcroft also said that some of those being detained were being held as material witnesses, arrested on court-ordered warrants. He said that because those cases were being reviewed by federal grand juries the proceedings were under seal and he was prohibited from providing either the number or identity of those individuals.
"While I am aware of various charges being made by organizations and individuals about the actions of the Justice Department, I have yet to be informed of a single lawsuit filed against the government charging a violation of someone's civil rights as a result of this investigation," he said.
Mr. Ashcroft, addressing critics of the department's terrorist investigation, said unsubstantiated accusations do "a disservice to our entire justice system."
"This Justice Department will not sacrifice the ultimate good to fight the immediate evil," he said.
Mr. Ashcroft also defended his decision to question 5,000 foreigners concerning the September 11 attacks.
A list was circulated this month to federal prosecutors nationwide to question foreign males, ages 18 to 33, who entered this country on non-immigrant tourist, student or business visas after Jan. 1, 2000, from a country in which a terrorist might be likely to plot additional attacks and then enter the United States.
He said when crimes are committed, questions always are asked of those who might have information about the event or pending threats. He said that did not exclude foreigners.
"The question has to be asked: Are people going to accept their responsibility to help us prevent additional terrorist attacks or not? And I believe that's everyone's responsibility," he said, noting that those being questioned were not identified based on their ethnic origin but based on the country that issued their passports.
"We have asked individuals to help us, and we ask them to exercise appropriately their responsibility to assist, rather than to assert irresponsibly some right to resist," he said.


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