- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Justice Department and the FBI yesterday vowed to reopen and vigorously investigate racially motivated killings that occurred during the civil rights era.

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said a new agreement to work with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Urban League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, was part of the Civil Rights-Era Cold Case Initiative.

“The Justice Department is committed to investigating and prosecuting civil rights-era homicides for as long as it takes and as far as the law allows — because there is no statute of limitations on human dignity and justice,” Mr. Gonzales said, adding that the agencies sought “to bring justice to the criminals who may have gone unpunished.”

Mr. Mueller said that while the Justice Department and the FBI “cannot turn back the clock, nor right these wrongs,” they will continue to work closely with their new partners to bring “a measure of justice to the victims’ families and friends who never lost hope.”

Throughout the civil rights era, hundreds of racially motivated killings were committed, many of which were never investigated, were inadequately investigated, went unreported or were misidentified as accidental deaths or disappearances.

Mr. Gonzales said about a dozen cases are actively being looked at by FBI field offices nationwide among nearly 100 targeted incidents — mostly in the South — because “quite frankly, we’ve gotten better at doing investigations.”

“The technology is better,” he said.

Although many of the cases may lie outside the federal government’s jurisdiction, Mr. Gonzales said the Justice Department and the FBI have a responsibility to investigate and prosecute these cases where evidence still exists.

Mr. Mueller said determinations will be made whether the targeted cases can be prosecuted, but said new forensic technology is available and witnesses who are no longer afraid may now come forward.

“In too many instances, the truth has been hidden for too long. Many individuals have quite literally gotten away with murder,” Mr. Mueller said.

Last year, the FBI began an initiative to identify fatal hate crimes that occurred before December 1969, telling its 56 field offices to re-examine unsolved civil rights cases. It has since partnered with state and local authorities, civic organizations and community leaders to re-examine cold cases.

Mr. Gonzales said yesterday’s announcement was part of “the next phase of this initiative,” a more formal partnership to identify new cases and to solicit help.

“Not every case will be resolved. In some cases, the perpetrators may already be dead. In some cases, we may find no federal jurisdiction,” he said. “But these unsolved crimes remain on our radar, and through these expanded lines of communication, we hope we can bring closure to some of these cases.”

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