LIBRARIES ORDERED TO DESTROY US PAMPHLETS
The federal Government Printing Office has ordered libraries across the
country to destroy five US Department of Justice pamphlets that provide
how-to instructions on prosecuting asset forfeiture cases, invoking a
rarely-used authority to order the removal of items the government
routinely sends to hundreds of libraries.
The pamphlets are among the material the office sends each year to about
1,300 depository libraries. Those facilities, at least two in each
congressional district, are designated by Congress to receive and make
available copies of virtually all documents the federal government publishes.
Representatives of the 65,000-member American Library Association said they
did not know why the pamphlets were ordered destroyed, and they pledged
yesterday to challenge the order as an infringement on a century-old
guarantee of public access to unclassified documents that the government
publishes each year.
Patrice McDermott, the association's deputy director of governmental
affairs, said 20 to 30 instances have occurred since the middle of the 19th
century in which the printing office, acting on behalf of a federal
department or agency, has asked for documents to be returned or destroyed.
Most previous recalls were for materials found to contain a factual error
or determined to be out-of-date, she said.
Bernard A. Margolis, president of the Boston Public Library, said the
Government Printing Office distributes documents with the approval of the
Justice Department and other federal departments and agencies. Although the
documents are kept in libraries, he said, ownership is retained by the
federal agencies that produce the materials and they may ask for the
materials to be returned.
For example, in the months after Sept. 11, 2001, the Government Printing
Office ordered libraries to return a compact disc containing detailed
information on the country's public water works systems.
Still, Margolis said the e-mail order to destroy the pamphlets "came out of
the blue" Thursday. He said much, if not all, of the materials -- such as
statutes on asset forfeiture -- are "the law of the land" readily available
online and in law books.
Margolis said the pamphlets will remain available at the Boston Public
Library while he prepares a challenge to the directive.
Calls to the Government Printing Office seeking comment were not returned
The office's one-paragraph directive listed the five pamphlets, with titles
such as "Civil and Criminal Forfeiture Procedure" and "Select Federal
Assets Forfeiture Statutes," and instructed librarians to "withdraw these
materials immediately and destroy all copies by any means to prevent
disclosure of their content," according to a copy of the e-mail sent to the
Boston Public Library and all other depository libraries.
The directive concluded that "the Department of Justice has determined that
these materials are for internal use only."
Casey Stavropoulos, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said the
pamphlets were written by Justice Department attorneys who intended them to
be law enforcement tools for federal prosecutors.
She declined to discuss the content of the pamphlets but said "they were
never intended for public distribution. They were developed for internal use."
Margolis said he sought an explanation of the directive from an official in
the federal Office of Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering, who told him
that some information in the pamphlets could disclose legal strategy.
But he said the official conceded that much of the information has been
publicly available for at least four years.
Lester Joseph, head of that federal office, could not be reached for
McDermott said federal law allows government documents created for internal
use to be included in the depository system if they are considered
"educational" or serve another public interest.
"We are going to push the Department of Justice on this," she said. "This
material is already out there. Some of these documents are merely
compilations of federal statutes. You can find this stuff in law offices
and law libraries across the country. We just don't know the rationale for
The pamphlets contain detailed legal research on asset forfeiture law,
including statutes and case histories on the legal means of seizing cash,
cars, houses, boats, and other property of convicted drug dealers and other
The materials, dated from 2000 to 2004, include documents and instructions
that take prosecutors from "the drafting of the forfeiture allegation . . .
to post-trial phases of a criminal forfeiture case."
The pamphlets were written by the Justice Department's Office of Asset
Forfeiture and Money Laundering and seem to be a comprehensive resource for
prosecutors handling forfeiture cases.
Margolis said the materials seemed very similar to the vast majority of
other materials from the Government Printing Office.
"There is a precedent danger that if a handful of documents that appear
innocuous -- the forfeiture statutes -- if these become subject to a casual
or cavalier yanking, then what is next? Maybe it's things that are really
critical and primary to people's livelihood, to their safety, or to their
health," he said.
Margolis said he is particularly concerned about the process for
determining which documents are excluded from libraries.
"I think at a minimum we are entitled to know the process, how these
determinations are made, and whether excluding something is truly in the
public interest," he said. "The public should get its day in court."