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Morning Session of a Hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee - Oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice


Location: Washington, DC


SEN. HERB KOHL (D-WI): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

I would ask you to comment on three local law enforcement program. First, the Byrne Justice Assistant Grant program, which has been on the administration's chopping block. It's targeted for elimination in every budget proposed by the president. As the result of the president's veto threat last year, funding for the Byrne program was reduce by 67 percent in fiscal year '08.

Back in 2001, my own state of Wisconsin received more than $9 million in Byrne funding. However, due to cuts imposed by the president, Wisconsin will receive only about $1.6 million this year.

This has had a real impact on our state's ability to fight crime. What we're talking about is losing prosecutors and shutting down drug task forces and prevention and treatment programs all around the state.

Second, two other critical funding programs that have continually been targeted for cuts by this administration are the Juvenile Accountability Block Grant Program and the Title V Local Delinquency Prevention Programs. Both of these programs expired last year, and we are currently working on legislation to reauthorize them. The Junior (sic) Accountability Block Grant Program, of course, provides funding for intervention programs that address the urgent needs of juveniles who have had run-ins with the law, and Title V is the only federal program that is solely dedicated to juvenile crime prevention.

As you know, when we cut funding, local programs are forced to close their doors, and an entire generation of young people do not receive the benefits of these very important programs. They -- these programs need to be reauthorized, and they need to be sufficiently well-funded -- something which this administration has not yet supported.

Can you provide us some idea of whether or not this funding will be a priority of yours, as it is for many of us here?

ATTY GEN. MUKASEY: The funding of targeted programs -- targeted programs are certainly a priority. In fact, the president, I believe, as part of his budget, has a $200 million targeted grant program, of which a substantial amount -- I'm not sure of the precise figure; I don't know whether it's 30 or 60 -- is targeted to go to Milwaukee, which has had a specific problem, a specific crime problem, and that money is targeted to go to Milwaukee.

We have also had Safe Streets Program, anti-gang initiative, the gathering of information and the allocation of people and funds out to those places where there is perceived to be -- and there is -- an increase in crime, whether it's gang crime or any other. And so we're looking to use the funds and to use them intelligently and target them where they're needed. And I know specifically about the issue in Milwaukee and that we intend to address it.

SEN. KOHL: I appreciate that, and I will follow up with you in the coming days on what we're going to do, particularly, as you point out, for Milwaukee.

On Guantanamo Bay, during your confirmation hearing last year, we talked about the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. We talked about the long list of national security experts from inside and outside this administration who have argued that it is in the national security interest of the United States to close that prison. Since then, even the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mullen, has said publicly that we should close Guantanamo as soon as possible.

You would not add your name to that list. Instead you said that you were prepared to recommend to the president that we take the responsible course in dealing with the people at Guantanamo.

Then you went on to say that you would get the best people you can to give you the best advice that you can get about what to do with Guantanamo.

So I'd like to ask you whether or not that advice has been given, and whether or not you're prepared to add your name to the list of those who believe that we should close Guantanamo.

ATTY GEN. MUKASEY: I believe the president has said that he wants to close Guantanamo, so long as it could be done in a responsible way that permits us to deal with the people who are there without simply releasing them.

There is a case before the Supreme Court with regard to the status of those people, Boumediene, and there are a couple of questions that could -- issues and matters that could result from that, including not only whether there is a constitutionally based habeas right, but rather -- but also, I should say, whether there is some alternative to habeas that would be sufficient to deal with those people, and that is a subject of litigation, a subject that's in the Supreme Court, and it's a subject that we're facing.

There's another case in the D.C. Circuit involving the adequacy or not of Combatant Status Review Tribunals and what we can do to improve those, and that is before the D.C. Circuit. And it's something that we're conscious of and something we're trying to deal with.

SEN. KOHL: Mr. Attorney General, I'd like to ask you about court secrecy.

Many of us have been concerned for years about the use of secret settlements in our courts. This issue received a lot of attention back in the Bridgestone Firestone cases in the last 1990s, and yet little has been done to reform the system in the wake of that scandal. As we learned at a recent hearing, judges continue to provide court- endorsed secrecy without considering public health and safety, which in many cases has resulted in injuries that could have been prevented.

Now you're a former federal judge, and now you're the nation's top law enforcement officer. Do you believe that in cases involving public health and safety courts should be required to take a closer look at protective orders and weigh the public's interest in information about potential health and safety dangers, along with, naturally, the proponent's interest in confidentiality?

ATTY GEN. MUKASEY: I think courts should always take a look at a protective order following settlement of the case, particularly when that involves public safety. I don't know of a case where somebody is essentially sweeping a public safety issue under the rug in a settlement, and I would not want any court to approve of that.

SEN. KOHL: Well, as I'm sure you know by the history of this whole issue there have been many court secrecy awards that have occurred and that have resulted in substantial damage to individuals because those records were swept under the rug by the court secrecy order.

My question is: Do you agree that we should require that in issues of this sort a judge needs to consider public health and safety before issuing a court secrecy decision?

ATTY GEN. MUKASEY: I think a judge should consider the effect on public safety of keeping of any settlement secret.

SEN. KOHL: My time is up. Thank you very much.


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