Longer visa waits for Arabs; stir over US eavesdropping

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November 10, 2001

Longer Visa Waits for Arabs; Stir Over U.S. Eavesdropping


WASHINGTON, Nov. 9 — The State Department said today that it would slow the process for granting visas to young men from Arab and Muslim nations in an effort to prevent terrorist attacks.

The move came as the Bush administration was engulfed in complaints about a separate new antiterror policy by the Justice Department to allow the authorities to monitor all communications between some people in federal custody and their lawyers. That move provoked an outcry from the legal profession, civil liberties groups and Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who heads the Judiciary Committee.

The changes in visa procedures and the new authorized eavesdropping represented what government officials said was a fundamental shift in antiterror policy to emphasizing prevention.

The government is considering more changes and is enacting others, some of which stem from new antiterrorism legislation. These measures include the following:

¶The use of wiretaps secretly authorized by a special federal court to prosecute people suspected of involvement in terrorism on charges unrelated to terrorism. The wiretaps are supposed to be primarily for intelligence gathering and are more easily obtainable than wiretaps sought for criminal investigations.

The revision of guidelines prosecutors use to determine when to oppose bail for people charged with relatively minor crimes. Federal prosecutors have in many cases urged judges not to release people suspected of involvement in terrorist activities even if they are charged with minor and unrelated crimes.

The holding in New York of at least 10 people as material witnesses with their arrest records sealed by court order.

The new State and Justice policies on visas and the monitoring of communications between suspected terrorists and their lawyers highlighted the problem of trying to reconcile growing national security concerns with traditional civil liberties issues.

State Department officials said that starting next week, visa applications from 26 nations from any men 16 to 45 years old would be checked against databases maintained by the F.B.I. The security procedure will take up to 20 days, officials said. The applicants will also be required to complete a detailed questionnaire on their backgrounds, including questions about any military service or weapons training, previous travel, and whether they had ever lost a passport.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell today portrayed the new rules as temporary. "Those who come to the United States, we're going to check on to make sure that we are safe," Mr. Powell said. "We want people to come to our shores but at the same time, we have to protect ourselves. This will be a temporary measure for a number of countries."

Mr. Powell acknowledged that the change could antagonize some Muslim nations whose support the United States seeks in its war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden's organization in Afghanistan. "We are sensitive to how it will affect our friends," Mr. Powell told Fox News.

Countries affected by the new visa restriction are Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

The move on visas drew immediate criticism in the United States, where pro-immigration groups and organizations representing American Muslims said the new requirements amounted to profiling by religion or nationality, a shift to methods they called antithetical to American values.

"This policy to me is very gray," said Angela M. Kelley, the deputy director of the National Immigration Forum, a pro-immigrant policy group. "It will catch up in its net people who mean us no harm. It sends the wrong message for a nation of immigrants."

In defending the regulations about eavesdropping on people in federal custody, which were instituted on Oct. 30 with little public notice, senior government officials said the action would help impede terrorist activities.

The regulation covers not only people in federal prison but also those in the custody of federal marshals and the immigration service. By monitoring all conversations between lawyers and a small group of people in federal custody, officials said, they would be able to prevent terrorist acts even if the information could not be used to prosecute anyone.

That is a departure from the traditional approach of officials trying to compile evidence to be used in a courtroom. "The priority now is stopping terrorist activity, saving American lives and not on getting evidence that's admissible in court," a senior government official said. Under the regulation, the lawyers and their clients would be informed in advance that their personal telephone conversations and mail would be monitored.

Mindy Tucker, the Justice Department spokeswoman, said the new regulation would affect only a small group of people, those who had been designated as requiring special treatment. Ms. Tucker said that, so far, only 13 people in federal custody had been affected; none of them, she said, had been arrested since Sept. 11.

In an interview tonight with Larry King on CNN, Attorney General John Ashcroft said the new guidelines had been misinterpreted by critics. "Just imagine this," Mr. Ashcroft said. "You have a terrorist who has — as a matter of fact, of the 13,some are terrorists — that has an incompleted task and is waiting to signal those colleagues of his on the outside of a time to complete the task, to finish what the terrorists endeavor. "We think we ought to be able to try and detect that and prevent that ongoing terrorism."

Mr. Ashcroft said the regulation stipulated that the officials listening in on communications would not be able to pass any information to prosecutors and that none of the information could be used in court without a judge's permission.

Government officials said that among those whose lawyer-client communications had been monitored was Omar Abdul Rahman, the blind sheik convicted in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

Senator Leahy said he was "deeply troubled by what appears to be an executive effort to exercise new powers without judicial scrutiny or statutory authorization." "These are difficult times," Mr. Leahy added. "Trial by fire can refine us but it can also coarsen us." The administration should devise ways to counter terrorists, he said, without losing "the freedoms that we are fighting to protect."

Robert E. Hirshon, the president of the American Bar Association, said that the new eavesdropping regulation clearly violated the Constitution's guarantees of the right to counsel and to be free of unreasonable searches. The attorney-client privilege dates to the reign of Elizabeth I in England and, Mr. Hirshon said, "No privilege is more indelibly ensconced in the American legal system than this privilege."

Traditionally, prosecutors may ask judges to wiretap lawyer-client conversations if they can demonstrate probable cause that the lawyer is being used to carry out a criminal enterprise. The rule about attorney-client conversations was published Oct. 31 in the Federal Register, a day after it went into effect. It states that the monitoring can take place when the attorney general concludes there is "reasonable suspicion" that the communications are intended to further terrorist acts.

Concerning the State Department's new visa policy, even advocates of tighter controls on immigration expressed discomfort with the approach. Steven Camarota, the research director of the Center for Immigration Reform in Washington, said the United States should scrutinize all visa applicants equally and not just focus on Muslim men. Technological advances should allow for all visa applicants to be finger-printed and checked by the F.B.I., Mr. Camarota said. "There should be a consensus in the United States that we don't want an ethnic- or religious-based immigration system," he said.

-- Swissrose (cellier3@mindspring.com), November 10, 2001


. Technological advances should allow for all visa applicants to be finger-printed and checked by the F.B.I., Mr. Camarota said. "There should be a consensus in the United States that we don't want an ethnic- or religious-based immigration system," he said.

In principle, this is ideal and the way it "should be".

However, without the infrastruture in place, what can be the most effective until we get there.

If these attacks -- and present threats -- came from the the IRA, would we not NOW be looking harder at ruddy complected, red headed, white males, in black leather jackets.


-- Jackson Brown (Jackson_Brown@deja.com), November 10, 2001.

This country is setting up a nice thoroughly totalitarian infrastructure to deal with non-citizens. After it is in place and fully tested, I guess it will be time to flip the switch and bring all the domestic dissidents under its umbrella as well.

-- neil (nmruggles@earthlink.net), November 11, 2001.

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