The Justice Department’s own inspector general recently released another damaging report on the Department’s conduct—this one involving credible claims of serious civil rights and civil liberties violations under the USA Patriot Act. These claims implicate federal employees at the Justice Department charged with the enforcement of a sweeping “antiterrorism” law known as the Patriot Act, itself the source of a growing maelstrom of civil liberties allegations.

After examining the report, Representative John Conyers (D-MI) of the House Judiciary Committee found that relinquishing constitutional protections to the executive in a time of war is not without its drawbacks. The report, which Mr. Conyers argues “only [begins] to scratch the surface with respect to the Justice Department’s disregard of constitutional rights and civil liberties,” details dozens of blatant civil rights abuses against immigrants swept up in the broad provisions of the Patriot Act. The allegations of inhumane treatment of prisoners at the hands of Department employees, many of which involve physical beatings and verbal abuse, are extraordinary to say the least—particularly when the accusations come from within the department itself.

The report reveals a total of 34 “credible” cases of physical and psychological abuse by Department’s employees. That litany of abuse includes one substantiated claim against a federal prison doctor who told an inmate during a physical examination, “If I was in charge, I would execute every one of you...because of the crimes you all did.” And what punishment can a federal official expect to receive after threatening an inmate with execution, particularly after a pattern of other abuse had been corroborated? According to the Justice Department, who “[shall] never waiver in our defense of the Constitution nor relent [in] our defense of civil rights,” a “verbal reprimand” will suffice.

Another case involved a corrections officer who, among 20 other claims of civil rights abuses, ordered one inmate to remove his shirt so the officer could use it to shine his shoes. This behavior might be acceptable in one of the oft-quoted “axis of evil” regimes, but not in a free society that prides itself on individual liberties and protection from tyranny.

The report is even more troubling because it follows an earlier inspector general’s report on the Department’s abuse of 762 immigrant prisoners in detention centers.

According to Amnesty International, such mistreatment included: indefinite detention without charge or trial, confinement to tiny cells for up to 24 hours a day, shackling during the bare minimum of exercise time granted, repeated interrogations without access to legal counsel, and the prospect of executions after unfair trials without the right of appeal. In case anyone else lost count of the number of constitutional liberties violated by the above charges, here’s a brief list: the Fifth Amendment preventing the elimination of life, liberty, or property without due process; the Sixth Amendment guaranteeing the right to a speedy trial with the assistance of counsel; the Eighth Amendment guarding against cruel and unusual punishment; and finally the Fourteenth Amendment enshrining the right of due process and equal protection of the laws. If the domestic terrorism clause of the Patriot Act—which can subject advocacy groups to criminal action—is added, the First Amendment is violated too.

When confronted with the inspector general’s scathing first report, Attorney General Ashcroft scoffed defiantly that he “makes no apologies.”

If the inspector general’s reports prove nothing else, it is that the people of the United States face a problem of staggering consequence. We can choose to revoke these draconian measures of the Patriot Act unduly awarded to a single branch of government, and restore the civil liberties awarded to all in the U.S. Constitution, or we can continue to support the Administration’s policy of frontier justice and blatant disregard for human rights. The inspector general’s reports make the dangers of increased executive power perfectly clear. So someone might care to remind the Attorney General of a statement he made following September 11. “Today we seek to meet the challenge of terrorism with the same careful regard for the Constitutional rights of Americans and respect for all human beings.” Wise words, but is his own department listening?