BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Spanish Portuguese Caribbean
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
    You are in: Americas  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
LANGUAGES
EDITIONS
 Friday, 2 August, 2002, 23:59 GMT 00:59 UK
US court ruling challenges government
US soldier six months on from 11 September
The US has rethought security since 11 September

Civil liberties groups in the US have been the most consistent voice of dissent since the 11 September attacks.

John Ashcroft
Ashcroft dismissed "phantoms of lost liberty"
Now a judge has handed the groups a victory in ordering the disclosure of the names of those detained on immigration violations and as material witnesses since the September 11 attacks.

It was a blow against the dramatically increased state secrecy imposed by the Bush Administration and Attorney General John Ashcroft since the attacks.

Secrecy

Mr Ashcroft made it clear from the beginning that he planned to use all of the legal means at his disposal to root out possible terrorists in the United States.

The tragic events of September 11 may not be used as an excuse to suspend basic rights

Kate Martin
Lawyer
The FBI has used immigration laws and material witness claims to arrest and jail some 1,200 individuals.

The exact number is not known because the Department of Justice stopped issuing tallies in November, and Mr Ashcroft has fought to keep their identities secret.

Normally under US law, they would have to be charged with a crime or released, and their identities would be a matter of court record.

But these detainees have been held without charge and without identification, disappearing into what some civil liberties campaigners have called a black hole of justice.

US house in Patterson, NJ, pained in stars and stripes
After the attacks patriotism grew, but did liberty suffer?
Civil liberties, immigrants rights and Arab-American groups have been fighting a battle in the courts to find out the identities of the detainees and get them out of legal limbo.

Mr Ashcroft has dismissed their criticism saying that it aided America's enemies and endangered American lives.

"To those who pit Americans against immigrants, citizens against non-citizens, to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve," he told the Senate last December.

The US Government has said that al-Qaeda paid close attention to the trial of suspects of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Centre.

The international terror network used information from the trial to learn about US intelligence methods.

This has been the justification for the unprecedented levels of secrecy.

Democratic values

But the ruling to disclose the names of detainees gave civil rights campaigners hope that there will be curbs on government power after 11 September.

"The ruling is a vindication of our basic liberties. The government may not arrest people in secret; the courts will stop government abuses; and the tragic events of September 11 may not be used as an excuse to suspend basic rights," said Kate Martin, the lead attorney in the case.

The courts have been suspicious of the secret detentions.

And Judge Gladys Kessler wrote in her ruling, "Secret arrests are 'a concept odious to a democratic society,' and profoundly antithetical to the bedrock values that characterize a free and open one such as ours."

The government is reviewing the decision, and many expect an appeal.

However, the ruling does not cover those detained in Guantanamo Bay Cuba. Earlier this week, a judge ruled that US courts do not have jurisdiction over the more 600 detainees held there.

They exist in greyer area of justice, beyond both the punishment and the protections of the US justice system.

And this ruling might reinforce the view of some in the US Government that those captured in the war on terror are best held out of reach of the long arm of the law, while remaining firmly in the grasp of American authorities.


Key stories

European probe

Background

IN DEPTH
See also:

01 Aug 02 | Americas
01 May 02 | Americas
06 Dec 01 | Americas
20 Mar 02 | Americas
27 Feb 02 | Americas
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Americas stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Americas stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes