Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the federal government has detained approximately 1200 people. The detainees fall into three categories: material witnesses, immigration violators, and those charged with a federal crime. Although the names charged with federal crimes have been released, the former two groups remain unnamed.
In early August, a federal judge ordered the Justice Department to release the names of all detainees held in connection to 9/11. In her opinion, Judge Gladys Kessler wrote, "secret arrests are a concept odious to a democratic society." The organizations that brought the suit, among them The American Civil Liberties Union, hailed the decision. The decision did not stand.
Two weeks after her decision, Judge Kessler altered her original ruling. Judge Kessler determined that the names need not be disclosed immediately and that the disclosure could wait for the appeals court's decision. A spokesman for the Justice Department believes that this decision is in the best interest of the nation, stating in response that the Department "continues its efforts to prevent terrorists from developing a road map to our ongoing terrorism investigation, to decrease the risk of a future attack on the American people and to protect the privacy interests of those who were detained."
That same day, August 15th, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report documenting the federal government's protection of fundamental constitutional rights after 9/11. In a press release, HRW stated "The U.S. government's investigation of the September 11 attacks have been marred by arbitrary detentions, due process violations, and secret arrests."
The issue of post-September 11 detentions and civil liberties will be debated in NOW's September 13th broadcast. Read about the participants.
SOURCES: Human Rights Watch, "United States: Abuses Plague September 11 Investigation";
Adam Liptak, Neil A. Lewis, and Benjamin Weiser, "After Sept. 11, a Legal Battle On the Limits of Civil Liberty," THE NEW YORK TIMES, 4 August 2002; New York Times Editors, "Ending Secret Detentions," THE NEW YORK TIMES, 6 August 2002; Philip Shenon, "Judge Delays Order to Identify Detainees Until Appeals Ruling," THE NEW YORK TIMES, 15 August 2002.