Former INS Commissioner Defends Civil Liberties; Says Justice Department Needs Major Reform

June 14, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – In a pointed defense of civil liberties, James W. Ziglar, the Bush Administration’s former Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, today criticized those who would “”toss aside”” our core freedoms in the name of security and called for a significant restructuring of the Department of Justice.

“”Those freedoms that would be so casually tossed aside are the very reason that we are the most open, the most powerful and the most secure society in the history of man,”” Ziglar told ACLU members gathered here for the organization’s first-ever membership meeting. “”Our civil liberties are our strength, not our weakness. We are a nation based on a proposition, not on blood or history.””

In addition to rejecting the idea that civil liberties must be “”rebalanced”” in the war on terror, Ziglar also said the Justice Department should shed its three law enforcement operations and become an agency devoted solely to the protection of civil liberties and the prosecution of federal criminal cases. Ziglar was INS Commissioner from August 2001 to November 2002; he is now Distinguished Visiting Professor of Law at George Washington University.

A self-proclaimed Reagan Republican, Ziglar said that the FBI should become an independent agency, similar to the Environmental Protection Agency or the Central Intelligence Agency. He added that the Justice Department’s other law enforcement units — the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives – be housed elsewhere. He cautioned, though, against housing them in the new Department of Homeland Security.

“”I fear that if the mission of the Department of Justice is now primarily to disrupt and prevent, then the questions that will be asked in the department will no longer focus on whether an action is safely within the bounds of the Constitution and laws, but how close can they get to the line, or how much can they get away with,”” Ziglar said.

Citing the recent report from the DOJ’s Inspector General detailing extensive mistreatment of the detainees rounded up after 9/11, Ziglar expressed concern that the Justice Department is pervaded by an attitude dismissive of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and argued “”the goal of having more checks and balances in the administration of justice and the protection of civil liberties is, in my view, critical at this juncture in our history.””

“”It is something that should be embraced by both liberals and conservatives,”” he said.

Lucas Guttentag, head of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said that problems at the Justice Department today are the result of policies that disregard civil liberties in favor of hollow security measures. Guttentag cited the case of a Jordanian student in Pittsburgh snatched this week from his dorm room and held without bail as a “”Level 1″” security risk solely because he failed to register with a national immigrant tracking and fingerprinting program that affects only men over the age of 16 from 25 primarily Arab and Muslim countries.

“”The Justice Department’s promises of change are too little, too late and are belied by its continuing practices of detention and secrecy,”” Guttentag said.

Ziglar’s speech can be found online at:

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