- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Only about 1 percent of the 1,266 civil rights and civil liberties complaints filed against Justice Department employees over the past six months concerning the USA Patriot Act “warranted opening an investigation or conducting a closer review,” according to a report yesterday by the department’s Office of Inspector General.

Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said of the total complaints received, 17 were marked for further investigation. Most of those, he said, were related to accusations of excessive force or verbal abuse by Bureau of Prison (BOP) officials, denial of library and phone privileges for prisoners, unreasonable cell searches and issues involving solitary confinement.

The Patriot Act has come under fire from various political, religious and civil rights leaders, who question the law’s broad powers. Some have challenged its constitutionality, while others have said it has led to abuses of various ethnic groups.

But Mr. Fine’s 21-page report found no civil rights or civil liberties abuses related directly to the Patriot Act, saying that of 162 complaints that specifically accused Justice Department employees of abuse, “none … related to their use of a substantive provision in the Patriot Act.”

Most of the complaints reviewed by Mr. Fine’s office, a total of 720 of the 1,266, were described as “unrelated” to civil liberties or civil rights, including accusations that the government was broadcasting harmful signals and that its agents were intercepting dreams, according to the report.

The inspector general is required under the Patriot Act to investigate complaints against Justice Department employees and report his findings to Congress.

Although lawmakers did not specifically identify the types of civil rights and civil liberties abuses for which they had concerns, Mr. Fine’s office has focused generally on ethnic and religious groups vulnerable to abuses from a backlash from the September 11 terrorist attacks, including Muslims, Arabs, Sikhs and South Asians.

The accusations listed in the report as warranting further review included:

• A report by a Muslim inmate that he was subjected to verbal abuse, discrimination and anti-Islamic sentiment that intensified after the September 11 attacks and was transferred to another detention center in retaliation for filing complaints against BOP officers.

• Claims by an Egyptian national that the FBI improperly detained him immediately after the September 11 attacks and that during his detention, he was forced to undergo an invasive body cavity search in the presence of numerous people, including a woman.

• An accusation that the FBI conducted an illegal search of an Arab-American’s apartment, during which the agents vandalized the apartment, stole items and called him a terrorist. The complaint said the agents found no evidence linking the man to terrorism, but returned four months later after they had planted drugs in the apartment. The man later told the Inspector General’s Office that the cocaine found in the apartment could have been his.

Mr. Fine’s report said several cases still under review include accusations that BOP personnel targeted a Muslim inmate for disciplinary action and disparate treatment; that unidentified correctional officers and the warden of a detention center threatened to “gas” inmates after the September 11 attacks; and that a detainee, who has since been deported, was assaulted at an Immigration and Naturalization Service contract facility and doused with pepper spray.

BOP officials were accused of using excessive force and verbally abusing Muslim inmates; ignoring requests for medical treatment; executing excessive searches of Muslim inmates’ cells because of their religious beliefs; and denying Muslim inmates access to television, radio, books and newspapers.

After investigations by the BOP, four of those complaints have since been listed as unsubstantiated and one was closed when the detention office was fired during his probationary period. The others remain under review.

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