- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2002

The Justice Department's Office of Inspector General yesterday began an investigation under an anti-terrorism law adopted in the wake of the September 11 attacks on America that will focus on complaints of suspected civil rights abuses by federal agents.

Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said a special counsel would be hired soon to head the probe, which is authorized under the USA Patriot Act signed into law by President Bush on Oct. 26. In the meantime, he named his counselor, Paul K. Martin, as the acting official mandated by the law.

"Historically, the Office of the Inspector General has had responsibility for investigating allegations of misconduct by Department of Justice employees," Mr. Fine said. "The USA Patriot Act focuses attention on the fact that individuals who believe that a department employee has violated their civil rights or civil liberties have a place to send their misconduct allegations."

The Justice Department, in a sweeping anti-terrorism campaign after attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that killed more than 3,000 men, women and children, rounded up more than 1,200 people mostly of Middle Eastern descent. Many have been arrested and others detained for questioning.

Several civil rights groups and a few members of Congress have questioned the constitutionality of detentions and asked whether anti-terrorism tactics adopted by the department have been appropriate. Others have questioned how those being detained have been treated.

Under the USA Patriot Act, Mr. Fine is empowered to name a special counsel to determine whether Justice Department employees including members of the FBI and the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service have violated anyone's civil rights or civil liberties.

Mr. Fine said he has created a special section in the agency's investigations division to process the complaints.

The section will identify what Mr. Fine described as the "more serious civil rights and civil liberties allegations" and assign them to one of 17 investigations division field offices across the country.

He said the inspector general will refer other complaints to Justice Department components for their review and handling.

In addition, Mr. Fine said his office also may conduct audits, inspections and special reviews to exam systemic issues related to Justice Department practices implicated by the complaints received.

Mr. Fine said people who believe their civil rights or civil liberties have been violated by a Justice Department employee can e-mail the complaint to [email protected] or fax the complaint to the OIG at 202/616-9898. His office is located at the U.S. Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20530.

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