Can I Get a Witness?

Can I Get a Witness?

Can I Get a Witness?

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Nov. 24 2002 6:31 AM

Can I Get a Witness?

The Washington Post's lead looks at the fate of individuals detained as material witnesses in the post-9/11 terrorism investigation. At least 44 people—including seven U.S. citizens—have been jailed as potential grand jury witnesses, but nearly half have never been called to testify. The New York Times'top non-local story says Pakistan has been assisting North Korea in its development of nuclear weapons. The Los Angeles Times leads with late-breaking word of a deal between dockworkers and shipping companies on a labor contract covering all West Coast ports. Details of the six-year agreement were sketchy last night, but both sides appear to have come away happy, the paper reports.

According to the WP, it's unclear how many people in total have been jailed as material witnesses since 9/11. The Justice Department to date has refused to release any information about the detainees, which isn't surprising since federal grand jury proceedings are secret. The paper never really explains how it came to know of the "at least 44 people" arrested, though it sources "defense lawyers and others involved in the cases" throughout the story.

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The witnesses were detained under an obscure federal statute that allows prosecutors to seek an arrest warrant if a potential witness's testimony is "material" to a criminal proceeding and they are deemed a flight risk. A Justice Department attorney tells the WP that detainees aren't specifically required to give testimony before a grand jury, but that they can be compelled to provide other information, like fingerprints, hair samples, and other evidence that later can be used against them. Critics in turn say the government is abusing the law in order to detain and investigate people without charging them with a crime.

In the year since joining the American-led war on terrorism, Pakistan has delivered to North Korea the designs and equipment it needs to make a nuclear weapon, the NYT reports. Yet this is no bombshell to Washington. The Bush administration has known about the deliveries—many made using American-built military planes—yet has done nothing out of fear it could shake the uneasy alliance it has with Pakistan.

Both the WP and LAT front news that the FBI is looking into whether charitable contributions made by the wife of the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.S. might have indirectly benefited two of the 9/11 hijackers. Since 1998, more than $100,000 was transferred to the family of a Saudi citizen with ties to one of the hijackers' financial supporters. Saudi officials confirmed the contributions but said there is no evidence that any of the money made it into the hands of the hijackers.

The LAT fronts a
preview of the Supreme Court's impending reconsideration of the law governing Miranda rights. A farm worker who was shot five times after a run-in with police sued after he was pressured to talk to the officers' supervisor while on the way to the hospital. He contends that Miranda rights prevent him from being coercively questioned by law enforcement. Police, on the other hand, assert that Miranda rights do not block such questioning, just the right not to have forced confessions used at trial. The Bush administration has sided with police. Arguments begin Dec. 4.

A "Week in Review"
piece in the NYT notes the irony that Americans care more about protecting their privacy from credit card companies, telemarketers, and other business interests than they do when it comes to government surveillance. "The dichotomy is a little hard to explain, given that intrusion by the government can be life-altering while most businesses can do little more than annoy people with phone calls at dinner time," the piece notes.

An LAT inside
piece checks in with Midland, Texas—or Bush country, as the paper calls it—to gauge how people there feel about the possibility of war in Iraq. A monthly meeting between some of the state's biggest oil producers finds surprising ambivalence toward the possibility of conflict. Though an Iraq war stands to be a boon for domestic energy companies, even Bush's top supporters—none of whom wanted to be named—aren't sure if the U.S. should go after Saddam or not.

Finally, a NYT
piece previews Uncle Saddam, a documentary about the Iraqi dictator set to premiere on cable this week. Don't mistake it for Frontline. Not unlike the tone of Journeys With George, the film focuses on the campy aspects of Saddam's bizarre dictatorship. Among the revelations: Saddam likes to be greeted with a kiss near the armpit; he fishes with grenades; and he is building the world's largest mosque on a man-made island in the shape of his thumbprint.