FBI Director Mueller To Testify Before Congress Today

May 20, 2009 12:00 am

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ACLU Asks House Committee To Question Mueller On Civil Liberties Issues Including Torture And Surveillance

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WASHINGTON – FBI Director Robert Mueller will testify before the House Judiciary Committee today in a general oversight hearing on matters including his agency’s role in the torture of detainees, a bloated terrorist watchlist and recent changes to guidelines that outline FBI agents’ ability to conduct surveillance on Americans who are not suspected of wrongdoing.

“The conflicting reports surrounding the FBI’s role in torture are a huge cause for concern,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Add to that an inflated watchlist that carries the names of thousands of innocent Americans and new surveillance guidelines that don’t pass constitutional muster and, frankly, Director Mueller owes Congress some answers.”

Last week, the Senate heard from former FBI agent Ali Soufan who testified that after CIA contractors began using abusive interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah in the summer of 2002, Director Mueller ordered FBI agents not to engage in such abuse. But according to the Department of Justice Inspector General’s report regarding the FBI’s involvement in detainee interrogations in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Afghanistan, and Iraq, the FBI did not issue written guidance until May 2004. It has been widely reported that after detainees were harshly interrogated by the CIA, the FBI would then send in a “clean team” to obtain the evidence that was already beaten out of the witness in a more legally acceptable fashion.

Also of concern are recent changes to the attorney general guidelines that allow the FBI to conduct investigations of American citizens and legal residents, called “assessments,” without any evidence of wrongdoing. The changes, put into place last December, allow surveillance suspiciously similar to the FBI’s previous domestic spying program known as COINTELPRO, which was used throughout the 1950s and 60s to monitor and disrupt groups suspected of having “communist” ties, which included university professors, labor groups and civil rights advocates including the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. These changes could open the door to racial profiling as someone’s race, religion or ethnic background could be used as a significant factor in opening an investigation.

“The original attorney general guidelines were put into place after the FBI abused its authority and, with these recent changes, the bureau effectively nullified the protections those guidelines once offered,” said Fredrickson. “These revised guidelines have been in place for nearly six months and we’ve yet to receive real answers on their use and efficacy. Given the notoriously poor internal oversight at the bureau, we hope that Congress will use this opportunity to push Director Mueller beyond the talking points to get some real answers.”

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