RAY SUAREZ: We begin with an overview of the detentions since Sept. 11. Various arms of federal law enforcement have taken more than 1,000 people into custody, while seeking people with links to the airplane hijack teams. To help us sort through what's known about the detainees and their place in the federal terrorist investigations, we're joined by Neil Lewis of The New York Times. Welcome back, Neil.
NEIL LEWIS: Thank you, Ray.
RAY SUAREZ: First off, is there a solid number? Do we know how many people have been detained under various kinds of charges since this all began?
NEIL LEWIS: We know what the Justice Department tells us is the total number of people at least as of the last time they told us was Friday and that's 1,147 people detained in three general categories.
One is about 180 people detained on presumed immigration violations, and there's a handful of people who have been detained as material witnesses. Most of them are now being held in Manhattan and New York, and the large majority are people who have been detained, I should say arrested, we don't have secret arrests in this country, have been arrested on criminal charges of varying degrees by both federal, state and local law enforcement officials.
The investigation began on Sept. 11 with the federal government starting with the 19 hijackers using their credit card records and their telephone records and spreading out from there.
At the same time, the federal government sent sort of a charge through local law enforcement that this was a vital investigation and to varying degrees of zeal local law enforcement agencies have taken it up and taken people into custody.
The rubric here, the plan, as Attorney General John Ashcroft has outlined, is if we suspect people of involvement with terrorists or terrorist organizations, we want to arrest them, put them away even if it's on totally unrelated charges. In fact, of these 1147 people, not one has yet been charged with anything in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks.
RAY SUAREZ: And of that 1,147 people, are there those that were picked up for questioning, interrogated, found to have no connection of any kind and then released?
NEIL LEWIS: Some number, but confusion reigns here. You had the White House Press Secretary saying the majority of them had been released, and the Justice Department corrected him the next day saying, no, some number have. But they don't know how much, so it's somewhat mired in confusion by the way it's set up bureaucratically. The Justice Department keeps its running tally.
You remember, people are arrested all the time in the nation. These are people supposedly arrested in connection with the Sept. 11 investigation.
So the Justice Department has its own tally and it keeps numbers from local law enforcement people. That's how they put out the tally.
RAY SUAREZ: Now let's talk a little bit about under what authority these people are being held or under what criminal statutes they're being held because I'm wondering whether the new laws that were passed by the Congress created any new powers, or whether these arrests and these detentions were accomplished under the old statutes that predate the debates on the Hill.
NEIL LEWIS: The people arrested largely were taken into custody from statutes that existed before the debate on the Hill and before Sept. 11.
What has changed is this new approach that we're - if someone is suspected of this kind of involvement, we're going to investigate them, we're going to find out if there's anything that we can hold them on.
So what has happened is they might suspect an individual, investigate that individual and find out that individual is light on a credit card application. They will arrest that individual, charge him with a criminal charge, nothing to do with Sept. 11, but because they assert that they have a belief and can't know it, they will prosecute the person to the fullest extent. And what's been happening in courtrooms is that prosecutors and FBI agents have been going before judges and saying, "we have this investigation. This is a mosaic. We don't know how this person may fit in and we'd like you to deny bail."
RAY SUAREZ: So when you prosecute it to the fullest extent, are we talking about charges that normally in a matter like this wouldn't result in trial, wouldn't result in continued detention, wouldn't result in denial of bail when now we see that happening?
NEIL LEWIS: That's right. In normal pre-Sept. 11 society, you had the principle that not everybody who speeds gets arrested or ticketed. It's sort of random. Now, it's not random. It's focused on people who the government says we may suspect you of this. In fact, of course, it has fallen disproportionately on mostly men but people of Middle Eastern and Arabic origin.
RAY SUAREZ: Neil Lewis, thanks for being with us.
NEIL LEWIS: Thank you, Ray.