Justice Department lawyers and investigators have come under more scrutiny after the Sept. 11 attacks than at perhaps any time since Watergate, reports the Los Angeles Times. Questions have been raised about the administration’s strategies for going after terrorism suspects and about whether politics was allowed to taint the department’s core mission to provide equal justice under the law. But the internal unit that polices the lawyers’ conduct has been operating under a growing shroud of secrecy, shutting down what were once regular, public disclosures about its activities.
The Office of Professional Responsibility is taking on some of the weightiest issues in government — examining the role Justice’s lawyers played in formulating administration interrogation policies for suspected terrorists and in endorsing a National Security Agency program of warrantless electronic surveillance. The ethics watchdog has exonerated department lawyers in at least two high-profile terrorism-related investigations. According to a redacted copy of a confidential OPR report obtained by The Times, the office found that department lawyers had not engaged in misconduct in connection with the controversial practice of using special warrants to round up and incarcerate men after Sept. 11 who were considered witnesses to crimes. Human rights groups said the technique was a way to illegally detain dozens of Muslims.