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Restoring Privacy and Civil Liberties
In the 32 years since I first came to the Senate – during the era of Watergate and Vietnam – I have never seen a time when our Constitution and fundamental rights as Americans were more threatened by their own government. Just this last weekend, the President and Vice President indicated that they intended to override the will of the American people, as expressed in the most recent national elections, and ignore actions of Congress in order to escalate the war in Iraq. This Administration has circumvented express congressional prohibitions on creating databanks of information on law-abiding Americans over the last five years.
The President has issued signing statement after signing statement declaring the law to be not what Congress passed and he has signed, but what he finds convenient. And, regrettably, the Administration has all too often refused to answer the legitimate oversight questions of the duly-elected representatives of the American people. Unfortunately, this Justice Department has been complicit in advancing these government policies which threaten our basic liberties and overstep the bounds of our Constitution.
The Department has also played a pivotal role, in my view, in eroding basic human rights and undercutting America’s leading role as an advocate for human rights throughout the world. Last week, the world marked the fifth anniversary of the arrival of the first prisoners at Guantanamo Bay with protests. That facility has replaced Abu Ghraib in the eyes of many, including some of our closest allies, as a symbol of repression. Although the President had said that he wanted to close it down, he is now proposing stepped up use and construction projects that threaten to make the detention center at Guantanamo Bay a permanent fixture in the world.
The Administration’s secret policies have not only reduced America’s standing around the world to one of the lowest point in our history, but these policies also jeopardize the Department’s own efforts to prosecute terrorism. Last week, USA Today reported that the Department’s terrorism case against Jose Padilla is imperiled by concerns that Mr. Padilla’s treatment during his lengthy detention and back and forth designations as a defendant and enemy combatant have eroded his mental capacity to such a great extent that he cannot fairly be tried. Any trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad as the mastermind of 9/11 will have to overcome challenges based on his treatment and detention.
And, after the Administration and the Republican-led Congress eviscerated the Great Writ of habeas corpus -- not just for detainees but for millions of permanent residents living in the United States -- this Department of Justice filed a legal brief expressly supporting that result, raising the specter that millions living in the United States today can now be subjected to indefinite government detention.
I am also deeply concerned that the Department of Justice is retreating from its core mission to hold those who would violate our criminal laws accountable. Last week, the President told us that he plans to spend $1.2 billion more, on top of the billions already sent to Iraq for reconstruction. Despite mounting evidence of widespread corruption, contracting fraud and billions unaccounted for, the Department of Justice has not brought a single criminal case against a corporate contractor in Iraq.
Preventing Terrorist Attacks
For those of us in government whose job it is to protect our country from terrorism, every day is September 12th.
Since the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001, the Department of Justice has undertaken a significant re-orientation to a preventive and proactive approach to combating terrorism. While bringing terrorists to justice remains a top priority, preventing attacks from happening in the first place is the first priority.
National Security Division (NSD)
In previous testimony, my predecessor and I have discussed the FBI’s reorganization. Creation of a new National Security Division in the Department of Justice was the next step shifting toward an approach focused on the prevention, disruption, and dismantling of terrorism.
Previously, as the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction noted, several different divisions and offices in Main Justice handled various parts of our national security operations, without centralized, coordinated management other than the Deputy Attorney General or me. The Administration proposed creation of the National Security Division to bring all of these functions together in one component, and you authorized it in the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act, signed by the President last March.
Military Commissions Act
I also appreciate the work of this committee on the Military Commissions Act. The MCA provides for the full and fair trial of captured terrorists; reinforces and clarifies United States obligations under the Geneva Conventions; and buttresses our ability to gather vital intelligence and disrupt future terrorist attacks.
I am aware that two bills were introduced in the last Congress, and are likely to be reintroduced, that would amend the federal habeas statute by deleting the MCA restrictions in their entirety. I believe that such proposals to amend the MCA are ill-advised and frankly defy common sense.
Terrorist Surveillance Program
When necessary, the government has developed tools to increase our flexibility in fighting the war on terror. The Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP) helped us to adapt to a new enemy that attempts to blend into our society while it plans its attacks. The TSP operates with the speed and agility needed to counter this new enemy, providing us with a critical early warning system that alerts us to the presence of al Qaeda agents in the United States. The TSP is limited to targeting only international communications in which we have reasonable grounds to believe that one party is a member or agent of al Qaeda or an affiliated terrorist organization.
The Terrorist Surveillance Program has proven to be one of our most effective tools in the war against terrorism. U.S. intelligence officials have confirmed that the program has helped detect and prevent terrorist attacks and has saved American lives.
Homegrown Threat and Response of DOJ/Law Enforcement
The threat from homegrown terrorists and cells – often radicalized online, in prisons, and among other socially isolated groups – may be as dangerous to the safety of Americans as that from international terrorist organizations. Together with its federal, State and local partners, the Department has worked steadily to prevent the spread of these cells and the danger of attacks by them.
We also recommended the development and use of a universal police report for identity theft victims. This will ensure that victims are able to obtain police reports documenting the misuse of their personal information, which in many cases they need in order to obtain fraud alerts, to request that fraudulent information in their credit report be blocked, and to undo the other damage the identity thief has done. Great progress has already been made in this regard.
We recommended that the public sector look seriously at ways to reduce unnecessary use of social security numbers. Social Security Numbers are ubiquitous in government and, as the most valuable piece of consumer information to identity thieves, we must identify ways to keep them more confidential. Furthermore, by reducing unnecessary use of social security numbers in the public sector, we can serve as an example for the private sector.
Chairman Leahy, thank you for holding this DOJ Oversight hearing today. As the new Congress begins its work, there is lots of talk about renewed interest in Congressional oversight because of the new Majority. But, oversight shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Oversight should be about good government, accountability, and transparency — things both parties ought to agree on. I have been a long-time advocate of more vigorous Congressional oversight of the Executive Branch throughout my time in the Senate, regardless of whether the Administration is Republican or Democrat and regardless of whether the Congress is Republican or Democrat.
I intend to continue that practice and I’m going to take this hearing as an opportunity to begin by asking the Attorney General about some important oversight issues. My goal isn’t to score political points for one party or the other. My goal is to make sure our government is doing what’s right and operating efficiently.
The Amerithrax Investigation
As I said in our December hearing with FBI Director Mueller, I am shocked that the FBI and the Justice Department continue to deny Congressional requests for briefings on the Anthrax investigation. Five years with no signs of progress and three years without a briefing to Congress on one of the largest and most important investigations the FBI has ever undertaken is simply unacceptable. There are accusations that FBI agents leaked information to the New York Times, and yet Director Mueller told us in December that no one has been disciplined for those leaks.
Refusing to answer basic questions like these just doesn’t make sense. Since the December hearing, 32 other Senators and Congressmen, including several members of this Committee, joined me in asking the Attorney General to direct the FBI to provide a comprehensive briefing on the status of the investigation. We haven’t received a reply.
DOJ Oversight Training
I also have questions for the Attorney General on the Justice Department’s activities in training other agencies on how to respond to Congressional oversight requests. I understand that the Office of Legislative Affairs at DOJ has been conducting some of these sessions, and frankly, I’m concerned about what that means for the ability of Congress to get access to the documents and witnesses it needs to do the everyday business of Congressional oversight. The DOJ Office of Legislative Affairs has been the source of unnecessary and inappropriate foot dragging in many of my oversight efforts over the years. That sort of attitude should not be allowed to infect other agencies as well. Therefore, I’ve asked the Attorney General to provide copies of the training materials and explain the nature of the program, so that we can ensure that agencies are receiving accurate information about history and precedents that govern Congressional access to information. Unfortunately, I have not received a response. To be fair, any such training should include materials and input from experts in Congressional oversight that address issues from the Legislative Branch perspective as well as the Executive Branch perspective.
False Claims Act
Today’s hearing also affords an opportunity to ask some detailed questions of Attorney General Gonzales regarding the False Claims Act. The False Claims Act represents this nations number one tool for fighting fraud, waste, and abuse of taxpayer dollars by allowing qui tam relators to act as private attorney’s general and recover money on behalf of the government. As the principal author of the 1986 revisions to the False Claims Act, I take pride in the fact that the FCA has recovered nearly $18 billion of taxpayer money that otherwise would have been lost.