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Ziglar: Justice Department power needs limits

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former Immigration and Naturalization Commissioner James Ziglar on Saturday suggested that the FBI be made an independent agency and the Department of Justice be limited to prosecuting crime and protecting the rights and liberties of Americans.

"No attorney general, whether Democrat or Republican, should be invested with power, real or imagined, to ignore, break or bend the rule of law," he said in a speech to a meeting of the American Civil Liberties Union to resounding applause.

Ziglar pointed to what he called the dramatic post-September 11 announcement by Attorney General John Ashcroft to change the Justice Department's mission "from investigation and prosecution to disruption and prevention."

"I fear that if the mission of the Department of Justice is now primarily to disrupt and prevent, then the questions that will be asked in the department will no longer focus on whether an action is safely within the bounds of the Constitution and laws," Ziglar said. " I fear the analysis will be focused on how close can they get to the line, how much can they get away with."

"The recent report of the [Justice Department] inspector general on the treatment of post-September 11 detainees, and the Department of Justice's response to that report, is strong evidence that such an attitude already pervades the department," he added.

Ziglar, who served as INS Commissioner in the Bush administration and is now a visiting professor at George Washington University, said he thinks it is time to narrow the scope of the Justice Department and to make the FBI an independent agency, similar to the Central Intelligence Agency and the Environmental Protection Agency.

"The FBI would not take its directions from the attorney general and within the bounds of the law, would deter and detect criminal activity of every nature," he said.

Ziglar's speech comes the day after FBI Director Robert Mueller defended his agency's conduct during the war on terrorism. Mueller, also speaking before the ACLU, said success will ultimately depend on whether terrorists can be beaten without trampling the individual freedoms of Americans.

"We will be judged by future generations on how we react to this crisis," Mueller said. "And by that, I mean not just whether we win the war on terrorism, because we will, but also whether, as we fight that war, we safeguard for our citizens the very liberties for which we are fighting."

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