Ashcroft's roundup of 9/11 detainees
By Nicole Colson | May 10, 2002 | Page 2
OUR SIDE won a small victory last month against Attorney General John Ashcroft and his war on civil liberties. Federal Judge Shira Scheindlin challenged the Justice Department's wholesale roundup of so-called terrorist suspects after September 11, ruling that the feds acted illegally in indefinitely detaining suspects as "material witnesses."
"If the government has probable cause to believe a person has committed a crime, then it may arrest that person," she said. "But since 1789, no Congress has granted the government the authority to imprison an innocent person in order to guarantee that he will testify before a grand jury conducting a criminal investigation."
Don't try telling that to Ashcroft. "The opinion of the one trial judge in New York represents an anomaly," the attorney general sneered to reporters, announcing plans to appeal Scheindlin's ruling.
The case that Scheindlin ruled on involved 21-year-old Jordanian student Osama Awadallah, who was questioned after investigators allegedly found a note in a car belonging to one of the September 11 suspects that had Awadallah's name on it. He's been in jail ever since, held as a "material witness."
Now Ashcroft has a new victim--Enaam Arnaout, a 39-year-old U.S. citizen originally from Syria. Last week, the Justice Department arrested Arnaout and is holding him without bail.
Arnaout is the leader of a Chicago-area Islamic charity, the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF). In December, the government froze the charity's assets as part of its "war against terrorism."
But the BIF fought back, filing a civil lawsuit in January. In a sworn statement, Aranout said that the foundation "has never provided aid or support to people or organizations known to be engaged in violence, terrorist activities or military operations of any nature."
Now the Justice Department is charging the BIF and Aranout with perjury--among other things, because a raid on the charity's Bosnian office turned up military manuals and pictures of Osama bin Laden.
"I can't think of another instance in which the government has ever prosecuted someone for perjury because of something said in a civil proceeding," Matthew Piers, an attorney for the BIF told the Chicago Tribune. "It's a new day since September 11, a scary new day."