ACLU Releases Report on Suppression of Dissent in a Post 9/11 America

May 8, 2003 12:00 am

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NEW YORK– Taking their cue from the Bush Administration, law enforcement officials across the country have interrogated, detained and prosecuted hundreds of people for exercising their First Amendment freedoms of speech and assembly, according to a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union on the suppression of dissent since the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

“This report clearly illustrates how dangerous it has become since the terrorist attacks of September 11 to criticize the President of the United States or his policies,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. “Government officials and political leaders must not be allowed to chill the free and robust debate that has made the American way of life the envy of nations and its Constitution a beacon to the world.”

“Freedom Under Fire: Dissent in Post-9/11 America,” describes how some government officials, including local police, have gone to extraordinary lengths to squelch dissent wherever it has sprung up, drawing on a breathtaking array of tactics – from censorship and surveillance to detention, denial of due process and excessive force.

The 18-page report finds that dissent since 9/11 has taken three principal forms: mass protests and rallies, messages on signs or clothing, and other acts of defiance by communities and individuals. These have ranged from silent vigils in parks to the passage of resolutions in more than 100 communities across the country protesting federal measures that violate civil liberties.

Police have beaten and maced protestors in Missouri, charged on horseback into crowds of demonstrators in New York, fired on demonstrators in California, and helped FBI agents to spy on professors and students at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, the ACLU report said.

Attorney General Ashcroft’s Justice Department has further asserted the right to seize protesters’ assets and deport immigrants under anti-terrorism statutes rushed through Congress after the attacks, and debated whether to revoke U.S. citizenship in some cases.

Some of the most stunning abuses – such as the compilation of political profiles of peaceful demonstrators by police in New York – did not come to light until they were exposed and challenged by the ACLU.

The ACLU report also makes clear that ours is not the first generation to face such challenges, with historical comparisons to government suppression of dissent from 1920 through the Vietnam era. These included the “scapegoating” of immigrant communities at the end of World War I, when labor strikes turned violent, leading to mass arrests and deportations on orders from then-Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer.

Also documented in the report are the actions taken by ACLU affiliates like the New York Civil Liberties Union to monitor the actions of police during the anti-Vietnam War rallies of the 1960s and 70s, when mass arrests were taking place and the civil liberties of peaceful demonstrators were being violated.

The ACLU’s report is available online at /dissentreport

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