White House: Many detainees were released
WASHINGTON -- Most of the people arrested on unrelated criminal charges by investigators probing the Sept. 11 attacks have been released, the White House said Monday.
"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.
The arrested and detained fall into three categories: those held on criminal charges, usually unrelated to the hijackings; those detained on immigration violations; and those held as material witnesses.
Officials said 185 have been detained for immigration violations, but they have declined to provide numbers for the other categories. The number held as material witnesses, however, is believed to be the smallest of the three groups.
No one in the United States has been charged with participating in or helping to plan the attacks, although several have been charged with helping the hijackers obtain false identifications.
Three people facing criminal charges growing out of the Sept. 11 investigation pleaded innocent in U.S. District Court in Alexandria on Monday. All three face trial in mid December.
Kenys Galicia, a notary public, is charged with falsely notarizing forms stating two of the hijackers, Abdulaziz Alomari and Ahmed Saleh Alghamdi, were Virginia residents.
Luis A. Martinez-Flores, 28, is charged with falsely certifying that two other hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Hani Hanjour, lived with him in Falls Church, Va.
Mohamed Abdi, a security guard, is charged with forging rental housing subsidy checks. Those charges are unrelated to the hijackings, but the FBI found his name and phone number on a map in a car registered to one of the hijackers.
Abdi's attorney, Joseph Bowman, said his client doesn't know how his name ended up on the map and suggested Monday he may try to argue that the case should be handled by a state court, instead of federal prosecutors.
Abdi and Martinez-Flores are being held without bail pending trial. Galicia has been released under a home detention program.
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From the AP