WASHINGTON (AP) Most of the people arrested on unrelated criminal charges by investigators probing the Sept. 11 attacks have been released, the White House said yesterday.
“The lion”s share of the people are not still in custody,” said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. “The overwhelming number of the people were detained, they were questioned and then they”ve been released.”
The White House later said Fleischer was referring only to those detained on unrelated criminal charges. But neither the White House nor the Justice Department would say how many of the more than 1,000 people arrested or detained so far remain in custody.
That prompted new complaints from civil liberties groups.
“The secrecy surrounding them is unacceptable,” said Lucas Guttentag, director of the immigrants” rights project at the American Civil Liberties Union.
“In order for the public to have confidence in the fairness of the investigation and make sure individual rights are preserved, the government needs to disclose more,” he said.
The ACLU has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for information on those detained in connection with the investigation.
Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said grand jury secrecy rules and judges” orders prevent the department from releasing information. Records on those facing unrelated criminal charges are available from state and local law enforcement agencies, she said.
Investigators have detained or arrested 1,147 people since the suicide hijackings as part of a massive dragnet to find associates of the hijackers and track down terrorists planning additional attacks.
Department officials have released daily figures about the number of people in custody but in most cases have not disclosed their names, where they are being held or whether they have been released.