Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Snapshots: Chertoff and it's an ugly picture

Matthew Rothschild (The Progressive):

Bush's latest appointment to head the Department of Homeland Security at least does not appear to have a skeleton in every closet as Bernard Kerik did. But Michael Chertoff is not the person for the job.
First off, he has no experience managing a huge department with 180,000 employees.
Secondly, and more importantly, his record on civil rights gives pause.
As Assistant Attorney General under Ashcroft, Chertoff was the guy who came up with the tawdry tactic of misusing the "material witness" law. Passed in 1984, it allows prosecutors to hold a witness if they fear that witness may flee. Before 9/11, it was used almost exclusively in Mob cases.
But Chertoff saw that law as a way to grab anyone potentially connected to a terrorist case, especially when there was insufficient evidence to charge that person with a crime.

Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!):
As an Assistant Attorney General in the months after the 9/11 attacks, Chertoff helped oversee the detention of hundreds of Muslims and Arab men without pressing charges, by using the material witness statute. A subsequent report by the Justice Department's Inspector General determined immigrants were rounded up in a, quote, “indiscriminant and haphazard manner.” Held for months while denied access to attorneys and sometimes mistreated behind bars. The American Civil Liberties Union said yesterday, quote, “We're troubled that Chertoff's public record suggests that he sees the Bill Of Rights as an obstacle to national security, rather than a guidebook for how to do security properly.”

John Mintz (Washington Post):
As an assistant attorney general in the months after the attacks, Chertoff helped oversee the detention of 762 foreign nationals for immigration violations; none of them was charged with terrorism-related crimes. A subsequent report by the Justice Department's inspector general determined that Justice's "no bond" policy for the detainees -- a tactic whose legality was questioned at the time by immigration officials -- led to lengthy delays in releasing them from prison, where some faced "a pattern of physical and verbal abuse."
"We're very concerned that Judge Chertoff views immigration solely through the lens of national security and counterterrorism, and that his record on counterterrorism needs to be closely examined," said Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, a civil liberties group.


Campaign Extra:
Chartoff's actions during this period would later be roundly criticized in a report from the Justice Department's own Inspector General. It found that immigrants were rounded up in an "indiscriminate and haphazard manner," held for months while denied access to attorneys and sometimes mistreated behind bars.
The report noted that Chertoff "urged immigration officials to 'hold these people until we find out what's going on,' despite the fact that many had been swept up and detained on minor immigration charges."
Chertoff also pushed prosecutors and the FBI into greatly expanded use of domestic surveillance. In November 2002, according to this report, he "defended the need for government agencies to aggregate large amounts of personal information in computer databases for both law enforcement and national security purposes."

He was instrumental in revising the internal "Attorney General Guidelines" to allow the FBI to infiltrate religious and political gatherings with undercover agents, and he was apparently the catalyst behind the federal Bureau of Prisons rule change permitting agents to eavesdrop on previously confidential attorney-client conversations in federal prisons. And, he directed the initial "voluntary" dragnet interviews of thousands of Arabs and Muslims.

Eric Lichtblau (New York Times):

The conviction in 2002 of Mr. Lindh, an American who admitted joining the Taliban in Afghanistan, represented one of Mr. Chertoff's biggest triumphs as head of the criminal division in the department. But the case resurfaced in Senate confirmation hearings after Mr. Chertoff was nominated to be a federal appellate judge in 2003.
At that time, Senate Democrats questioned him extensively about concerns in the department that the F.B.I. might have improperly questioned Mr. Lindh in Afghanistan even though his family had hired a lawyer for him. The questioning yielded potentially damaging admissions from Mr. Lindh that factored into his decision in July 2002 to plead guilty to felony charges, resulting in his 20-year prison sentence.

. . .
At his confirmation hearing in 2003, Mr. Chertoff said he and his deputies in the criminal division did not have an active role in discussions about ethics warnings in the case from lawyers elsewhere in the department.
But in previously undisclosed department documents, provided to The New York Times by a person involved in the case who insisted on anonymity, a longtime lawyer in the division who worked under Mr. Chertoff detailed numerous contacts he had with lawyers inside and outside the division on Mr. Lindh's questioning.
. . .

A supervisor in the counterterrorism section of the criminal division who expressed the division's displeasure "did not use Chertoff's name, but I certainly inferred from what he said that the unhappiness was coming from Chertoff" and his top deputy, Mr. De Pue said.
At his confirmation hearing for the appellate judgeship, Mr. Chertoff said he was not aware of the dissent among department lawyers on the case, including an opinion from an ethics lawyer, Jesselyn Radack, saying an F.B.I. interview of Mr. Lindh would not be authorized under the law.
Mr. Chertoff said, "I was not consulted with respect to this matter," and he said he was unaware that the office that handled ethics issues had given an official opinion on interviewing Mr. Lindh without his lawyer.
"I do not recall anyone expressing the opinion that the F.B.I. should be stopped from interviewing John Walker Lindh because of professional ethics rules about contacts with represented persons," he said in a written response to Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts. Mr. Chertoff defended the propriety of the interview, saying at his hearing it was highly unlikely "that a lawyer was going to be flown into the battlefield in Afghanistan."


Doug Ireland (on Democracy Now!):
Well, Amy, the real agenda of Mike Chertoff, according to sources in New Jersey who know Chertoff well, whom I spoke to yesterday, is he wants eventually to become Attorney General, and then grab a seat on the Supreme Court. That's why he's decided to take this job at Department of Homeland Security and give up a lifetime appointment on the federal bench.

Elaine Cassel (2003):
Chertoff's goal, I believe, and the goal of Ashcroft and Bush in supporting this prosecution in federal court, is to subject federal trials, as they see fit, to ad hoc exemptions of whatever laws (be they constitutional, criminal code, or rules of procedure) that will suit their purposes. Their grand scheme is to ultimately cripple and dismantle the federal courts as we know them, one brick at a time.

Liang (Common Ills member):
I read this( in the NYT article you linked to and it made my blood chill:
"Mike was a true agent of change after 9/11, and he took us into a mindset of prevention," said Viet Dinh, a former senior Justice Department official who also worked with Judge Chertoff on the Whitewater case. "He can do the same thing with homeland security, develop a vision and a consensus and build toward that, moving from disparate components with different interests into a common mission. That will be his first order of business, not to consolidate but to coordinate."
My family came from Vietnam. I see three types of Vietnemese in this country. There's the type that's so weary of the war torn country they left behind that they just want to withdraw from the world around them. There's the type who are so grateful to have come here and value what this country is and what it stands for. And there's the type who never felt secure in Vietnam and tend to overreact to every situation and are perfectly willing to sacrifice sanity and liberty for security. Dinh is someone I've never met but since he is of my community (Vietanmese-American), he is someone I often read of. Dinh strikes me as someone who will give up anything out of fear if he thinks it will bring him security. I am not questioning his patriotism but I am saying his response to any perceived danger will always be one of over-reaction and I think he may end up creating the very chaos he was lucky enough to leave. So when I read his endorsement of Chertoff, I am not comforted."

According to the New York Daily News, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton " when he was appointed to the Justice Department and the federal bench" (
Hopefully, she'll stand strong against him again. And hopefully, unlike with Senator Barbara Boxer's lonely stand for justice in the Senate last week, this time other Democratic senators won't be so quick to let someone stand alone.