- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 7, 2003

Squawk, squawk, squawk. The nation’s leading liberal editorial writers were in full wing-flapping mode over Attorney General again last week. The latest object of consternation: an internal Justice Department report regarding the post-September 11, 2001, detention of 762 aliens — nearly all of them here illegally — while they were investigated for possible ties to terrorism.

Yes, the extensive report highlights a few significant civil liberties concerns. But as has been typical of the anti-Ashcroft Chicken Littles, the newspaper editorial attacks are rife with false claims, exaggerations and foolish belittlement of the continuing national security threats posed by lax immigration enforcement.

The Los Angeles Times indignantly claimed that the feds “held most [detainees] for months without charges.”

False. If the Times editorial board had actually bothered to read Page 30 of the inspector general’s report — rather than rely on the American Civil Liberties Union’s talking points — it would have seen that the inspector general found exactly the opposite.

Almost all the detainees received written word of their charges within 30 days or less. In fact, the report found only 24 cases out of the 762 where it took more than a month to serve notice of charges. And of those cases, the inspector general acknowledged that there were numerous legitimate reasons for delay, such as logistical disruptions in New York City after September 11, including electrical outages, office shutdowns and mail service cancellation that slowed delivery of charging documents.

As for alleged harassment and abuse of detainees, the inspector general’s report stated that “we did not find evidence of a pattern of physical abuse of September 11 detainees” at one of two facilities investigated. At the other, 12 of 19 detainees claimed they were subjected to “some form of physical abuse.” It does appear there was at least one brutish guard (since fired) who acted unjustly and that some detainees experienced uncomfortable conditions while in confinement. But none of the allegations of either physical or verbal abuse of detainees was sufficient to press criminal charges.

The Washington Post attacked the Justice Department’s cruelty in holding “people unfortunate enough to have a problem with their immigration status.” Page 62 of the inspector general’s report, for example, cites the purportedly outrageous delay in releasing an illegal alien who had come under suspicion because of his employment with a Middle Eastern airline. The detainee had been ordered kicked out of the country way back in 1995 for violating immigration laws, but defied the order for six years. In October 2001, he was arrested based on a lead received by the FBI. It took 3 months for the FBI to clear him.

What’s more outrageous: that paperwork oversights and overloaded caseworkers led the FBI to hold this detainee for a little longer than necessary, or that hundreds of thousands of such deportation fugitives are considered by The Post’s editorial writers and their ilk as “run-of-the-mill immigration cases” who should be left alone?

The media elite may remain stubbornly oblivious to the dire consequences of winking at violations of immigration laws. The families of the murdered September 11 victims can’t afford that academic luxury. Yet, under the headline “Mr. Ashcroft’s abuses,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch piled on: “Normally, immigrants with minor visa violations aren’t arrested. But in the wake of September 11, the Justice Department tried to deny the men bond and adopted a ‘hold until cleared’ policy.”

Do these critics really believe that turning all the illegal alien detainees loose before running thorough criminal and terrorist background checks would have been the ideal choice in the aftermath of September 11, 2001? And wouldn’t all these editorial know-it-alls be the first to complain if Mr. Ashcroft allowed the release of a single detainee who turned out to be a terrorist? The squawking never ceases.

Michelle Malkin is a nationally syndicated columnist and the author of “Invasion: How America Still Welcomes Terrorists, Criminals, and Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores” (Regnery).

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