Instead of protecting civil liberties, the Justice Department is wasting money coddling prison inmates, including convicted terrorists. A report released by the department’s inspector general last week examined implementation of a section of the USA Patriot Act that requires the evaluation and, if necessary, investigation of claims of civil rights or civil liberties violations allegedly committed by Justice employees. This part of the act was meant to serve as a safeguard against abuse of the law’s newly granted anti-terrorism powers. One might imagine, for example, a complaint about the FBI using wiretapping authority to spy on nonviolent domestic political groups.
Instead of serving as a reasonable limitation on a sweeping law, the provision in practice has become a magnet for trivial and often unfounded complaints. From January through June, there were 1,997 Patriot Act complaints under Section 1001. Of these, 1,815 “did not fall within the OIG’s jurisdiction or did not warrant further investigation.” Of the remaining 182 complaints, just six merited a closer look. Those cases illustrate the problem.
One investigation involved a convicted domestic terrorist who was asked by a corrections officer about his country of origin and what crime he had committed. The convict replied that he was originally from Lebanon and he had been locked up for offering material support to a designated terrorist organization. According to the complaint, the corrections officer responded, “I don’t believe anything you guys say.” He then allegedly said to one of two other inmates, “What are we going to do with your terrorist friends?” Disciplinary action against the corrections officer is pending. Score one for the terrorists.
Another complaint alleged that Bureau of Prisons chaplains sought to regulate the size of prayer groups, as well as where, when and how long they could meet. The complaint objected to prison staff monitoring their “religious services and classes in a restrictive manner.” Given that radical Islam is the principal organizing concept of Muslim terrorist groups, it makes sense to keep an eye on activities of this sort. What they call religious classes could as easily be indoctrination sessions. There is no question of the right of prison officials to monitor and regulate ideologically motivated prison gangs engaging in such behavior. One can imagine the response to a criminal skinhead complaining about restrictions on white-power study groups. We should not fool ourselves that all Muslim inmates are simply exercising their First Amendment rights freely to exercise the rites of the “religion of peace.” To those inclined to violent extremism, prison is simply another battlefront in their personal jihad.
That inmates would file such complaints makes sense; it is a way they can use the system against itself. Those convicted of terrorism charges in particular would be expected to do so, and the al Qaeda training manual instructs terrorists to make spurious charges whenever possible. Given the triviality of the six charges the Justice Department felt were the most serious, one can imagine the insignificance of the hundreds of allegations that were deemed as unworthy of a follow-up.
The system remains an institutional means for the bad guys to intimidate the good guys.For a corrections officer to say he doesn’t trust terrorists is not a civil rights offense, especially when he had specifically ascertained that the person in question really had been convicted of terror-related crimes. Indulging inmates with too much free time on their hands hardly advances the cause of identifying abuse of Patriot Act powers.