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Patriot Act report documents civil rights complaints

From Kevin Bohn

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The internal watchdog of the Justice Department has found 34 new credible civil rights and civil liberties violations under the anti-terrorism USA Patriot Act, according to a report released Monday.

The report, released by the Justice Department's inspector general office, found the violations from its regular six-month survey of the antiterror law.

"This report shows there are more victims of John Ashcroft's war on the Constitution," said Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan. "The attorney general appears on television nearly every week claiming to protect us, while he simultaneously dismantles our civil liberties and civil rights. Will the Justice Department ever admit that it has gone too far?"

Justice Department spokeswoman Barbara Comstock said officials take their "obligations very seriously to protect civil rights and civil liberties" and said a "small number" of credible allegations will be investigated.

Inspector General Glenn Fine is required, as part of the anti-terrorism Patriot Act passed by Congress after the September 11, 2001 attacks, to give a report every six months related to claims of civil rights or civil liberties violations allegedly committed by Justice Department employees.

The report is a compilation of complaints received by the inspector general's office and includes some allegations previously detailed in its in-depth and critical report released in April about the treatment of immigration detainees arrested as part of the September 11 probe.

For the period of December 16 to June 15, 34 allegations were deemed credible and are being investigated by various officials within the department. Those 34 were among 1,073 complaints received during the period that suggested a Patriot Act-related civil rights or civil liberties connection.

The inspector general's office said 272 of those complaints came within its jurisdiction, but even many of those complaints "do not raise issues" that call for its investigation.

The types of complaints within its jurisdiction, according to the report, included allegations of excessive force by Bureau of Prisons correctional officers, verbal abuse by prison staff, rude treatment by immigration and naturalization inspectors, unwarranted cell searches and illegal searches of personal residences and property.

Some of the allegations received during this period were:

• An inmate's allegation that during a physical examination a Bureau of Prisons physician told the inmate, "If I was in charge, I would execute every one of you ... because of the crimes you all did." According to the report, the physician treated other inmates "in a cruel and unprofessional manner." After an internal Bureau of Prisons investigation substantiated the allegation, the physician received a verbal reprimand.

• Allegations raised by about 20 inmates that a BOP correctional officer at an unnamed prison facility "engaged in abusive behavior toward inmates that included verbally abusing a Muslim inmate and ordering him to remove his shirt to shine (the guard's) shoes." The Bureau of Prisons' Office of Internal Affairs did an investigation of these allegations but did not interview the inmates making the complaints. After a Bureau of Prisons' witness confirmed the allegations and six inmates corroborated them, the correctional officer admitted verbally abusing the Muslim inmate. The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division declined to prosecute this case.

• Claims that an Immigration and Naturalization Service detention enforcement officer "held a loaded gun to an alien detainee's head and threatened the detainee while transferring him to another detention facility." An investigation is ongoing by the inspector general's staff.

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