Ashcroft Wants Broader
Thursday June 5, 2003 4:49 PM
By JESSE J. HOLLAND
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - Attorney General John Ashcroft asked
Congress Thursday for expanded powers to hold suspected
terrorists indefinitely before trials and to let him seek the death
penalty or life imprisonment for any terrorist act.
Ashcroft told the House Judiciary Committee that the 2001
Patriot Act signed into law after the Sept. 11 attacks should
also be expanded to let prosecutors bring charges against
anyone who supports or works with suspected terrorist groups
as ``material supporters.''
``The law has several weaknesses which terrorists could exploit,
undermining our defenses,'' Ashcroft said.
Ashcroft, who held up copies of al-Qaida's declarations of war
against America and read aloud some of the names of those
killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, said new penalties in the
USA Patriot Act have helped the Justice Department prevent
more terrorist attacks in America.
Ashcroft also said the department did not break any laws
despite an internal Justice Department report that criticized the
government's treatment of illegal aliens held after the attacks.
The department's inspector general found ``significant problems''
in the Bush administration's actions toward 762 foreigners held
on immigration violations after the attacks. Only one, Zacarias
Moussaoui, has been charged in the United States with a
terrorism-related crime; 505 have been deported.
Some of the Sept. 11 detainees were held for up to eight
months, although most were deported before a 90-day deadline
for releasing them.
Ashcroft said department policy, ``for which we do not
apologize,'' is to detain people who are in the country illegally for
as long as it takes to clear them before they are deported.
He also said the Justice Department would investigate
allegations of abuse of the detainees, although 14 of 18 cases
referred so far already have been cleared without any charges
being filed. ``We do not stand for abuse,'' Ashcroft said.
The USA Patriot Act granted the government broad new powers
to use wiretaps, electronic and computer eavesdropping and
searches, and the authority to access a wide range of financial
and other information in its investigations.
Under the threat of the increased USA Patriot Act penalties,
several detainees are cooperating with the Justice Department
to reduce their sentences, Ashcroft said.
``Since September 11, we have obtained criminal plea
agreements, many under seal, from more than 15 individuals
who, according to the agreement and in order to have the
agreement carried out, will continue and must continue to
cooperate with the government in its investigation of terrorists,''
One person gave federal officials intelligence on terrorist
weapons stored in the United States, while another has
identified places being scouted or cased for potential attacks by
al-Qaida, he said.
``With the Patriot Act and our prevention strategy, we can point
to steady progress in America's war on terrorism,'' he said.
Several Democrats complained about the department's use of
the new anti-terrorism powers. ``We are concerned about the
way you have used your powers, the way you have detained
immigrants,'' said Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.
Added Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif.: ``Some of us find that the
collateral damage is greater than it needs to be in the conduct of
House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner,
R-Wis., says he is sensitive to civil liberties complaints. ``To my
mind, the purpose of the Patriot Act is to secure our liberties
and not undermine them,'' he said.
Sensenbrenner complained earlier this year that the department
wasn't sharing enough information with lawmakers for them to
judge how the act is working. That lack of information has made
it unlikely that he will support expanding the department's
powers, or renewing its current authority when the act expires in
October 2005, Sensenbrenner said in April.
``My support for this legislation is neither perpetual or
unconditional,'' he said Thursday.
Since then, the Justice Department has answered dozens of
written questions from the House Judiciary Committee and has
sent several Justice Department officials to testify before it.