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Patriot Act Abuses Seen

There are credible complaints that Arab and Muslim immigrants were beaten in federal detention, says an internal Justice Department report obtained by a newspaper.

Over the six-month period that ended in June, the Justice Department's inspector general found 34 complaints of rights violations that appeared credible, reports The New York Times. Some of the charges have yet to be fully investigated. Not all the complaints concerned physical abuse.

The report has been provided to Congress and will soon be publicly released.

The complaints concern the way the Justice Department has enforced the 2001 Patriot Act, a law passed in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks that granted wider powers to federal law enforcement officers to conduct surveillance and detain immigrants.

It follows another report by the inspector general that found "significant problems" in the Bush administration's actions toward 762 foreigners held on immigration violations after Sept. 11. The FBI took too long to determine whether they were involved with terrorism, as dozens endured "lock-down" conditions 23 hours each day and slept under bright lights, the report found.

The report comes as Attorney General John Ashcroft seeks a further expansion of power from Congress in a bill dubbed Patriot Act II, and was likely to be ammunition for opponents of that bid.

"This report shows that we have only begun to scratch the surface with respect to the Justice Department's disregard of constitutional rights and civil liberties," Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., said in a statement.

But Justice Department spokeswoman Barbara Comstock told The Times the DOJ "takes its obligations very seriously to protect civil rights and civil liberties, and the small number of credible allegations will be thoroughly investigated."

Comstock said the department had taken a tough stance against anti-Arab and ant-Muslim discrimination, prosecuting 18 people for such offenses so far and convicting all of them.

According to The Times, most of the complaints concern the Bureau of Prisons, but others target the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The 34 credible cases — a vast minority of the 1,073 total complaints lodged — "ranged in seriousness from alleged beatings of immigration detainees to B.O.P. correctional officers allegedly verbally abusing inmates," according to the report.

The Patriot Act charged the inspector general with checking out complaints about deferral enforcement. In the report, the IG complains his office is overwhelmed by the number of allegations being filed.

According to The Times, two cases were referred to the FBI. One complaint claimed an agent "displayed aggressive, hostile and demeaning behavior while administering a pre-employment polygraph examination." It was found to be unsubstantiated. The other claimed an agent made false charges; that is still being probed.

A draft of the new domestic security bill Ashcroft is seeking, published by a nonprofit government watchdog group in February, indicates that among other things, it would prohibit disclosure of information regarding people detained as terrorist suspects and prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from distributing "worst-case scenario" information to the public about a nearby private company's use of chemicals.

In addition, the measure would create a DNA database of "suspected terrorists;" force suspects to prove why they should be released on bail, rather than have the prosecution prove why they should be held; and allow the deportation of U.S. citizens who become members of or help terrorist groups.