ACLU Says Safety and Freedom Compatible; Calls on Congress to Reject Bills that Go Far Beyond Anti-Terrorism Needs

October 2, 2001 12:00 am

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Statement of Laura W. Murphy,
Director, ACLU Washington National Office


WASHINGTON — In the aftermath of the tragic events of September 11th, the American Civil Liberties Union joined with more than 180 organizations and individuals from across the political and ideological spectrum in urging Congress and the President to reconcile the requirements of security with the demands of liberty. We are also calling on Congress to be thoughtful and deliberative as it considers permanent changes to intelligence, criminal and immigration laws contained in the anti-terrorism legislation now before them.

Today, we ask that the House of Representatives reject the Sensenbrenner-Conyers “compromise” legislation currently being considered in the Judiciary Committee. This legislation still does not meet the basic test of maximizing our security with minimizing the impact on our civil liberties. The compromise bill would have a long-term negative impact on basic freedom in America that cannot be justified. And, it is possible for Congress to move forward with anti-terrorism legislation without harming civil liberties.

The specific provisions of the bill that we find particularly troubling include measures that would allow for indefinite detention of non-citizens ordered removed from the country without any meaningful judicial review, would minimize judicial supervision of electronic surveillance by law enforcement authorities and would expand the already broad definition of terrorism. The measure redefining terrorism would, if passed, allow for large-scale investigations of American citizens for engaging in many forms of civil obedience, which could include offenses as mundane as a protester breaking the window of a federal building.

While the Sensenbrenner-Conyers legislation does contain some improvements over the Administration’s original anti-terrorism package, it still fails to respect the appropriate checks and balances against government power that must be retained in a free, open and democratic society.

Unless these threats to basic civil liberties and American freedoms are removed from the legislation by the House Judiciary Committee, we will continue to vigorously oppose its passage.

There is a healthy and appropriate interplay between the tightening of our national security and respect for the Constitution that can be reached in our fight against terrorism. We sincerely hope Congress will seek out and implement this proper balance, and will do so slowly and with the utmost care.

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