After of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Michael Chertoff, head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, advocated declaring suspects to be “material witnesses” and locking them up without charging them with any crime, just as he had done with mob figures, the New York Times says. The tactic would prove controversial, but it was typical of Chertoff’s willingness to use “smart, aggressive and creative tactics to meet the newly urgent threat of terrorism,” the Times says. Now Chertoff has been nominated by President Bush to head the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Chertoff now must take on the daunting challenge of leading a collection of 22 agencies and 180,000 employees. If confirmed by the Senate, he will give up a lifetime appointment as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Even some critics who took issue with the Justice Department’s aggressive antiterror tactics said they respected Chertoff’s legal intellect and integrity. “He was an aggressive prosecutor, but he was never an ideologue,” said David Cole, a Georgetown University law professor and frequent Justice Department critic. “We’ve differed on many aspects of the war on terrorism, but I think he’s a thoughtful and independent thinker on a lot of these issues, and not insensitive to civil liberties concerns.”