ACLU Says Broad New Anti-Terrorism Measure Could Encroach On Americans' Rights g

January 25, 1999 12:00 am

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Monday, January 25, 1999

WASHINGTON — A broad counter-terrorism program being considered by the Clinton administration could include measures that severely jeopardize Americans’ liberties, the American Civil Liberties Union charged today.

The measures include the creation of a domestic military “commandante” responsible for fighting domestic crimes of terrorism.

These proposals, now under consideration, were apparently not included in the proposals unveiled on Friday by President Clinton.

“There is no need to further involve the military in civilian law enforcement,” said Gregory T. Nojeim, a legislative counsel for the ACLU.

Illegal use of chemical or biological weapons, like illegal use of explosives, is already a crime, Nojeim explained, and ought to be investigated and interdicted in the same way. The FBI, flush with hundreds of millions of new dollars to fight terrorism, is certainly well-equipped to deal with these crimes, he said.

“Military tanks on city streets are a scene from Kosovo, not Cleveland,” said Nojeim. “There is no need to create a new branch of the military — under the commandante for the country — whose business it could become to do just that.”

Since 1878, the Posse Comitatus Act has prohibited the military from getting into the business of civilian law enforcement.

In the few instances when the military has gotten involved in law enforcement efforts the result has been catastrophic, the ACLU said. A year and a half ago, Marines patrolling the U.S. border near Redford, Texas in search of drugs shot and killed an 18-year old goat-herder, Esequiel Hernandez. The marines were subsequently withdrawn from the border.

In Puerto Rico, when the National Guard took over public housing projects, it detained residents without cause, searched their apartments without warrants, and used excessive force — including breaking down doors. One youth was killed, allegedly without cause.

“We should keep scenes from movies like The Siege and Enemy of the State in the theaters, not on the streets,” Nojeim said.

The President is also considering proposals to make secret certain publicly available information about pipelines, highways, mass transit, water and other aspects of the nation’s infrastructure, a move that was also criticized by the ACLU. Classification of this information would increase costs and actually decrease the ability of the private sector to protect itself from computer attacks, the ACLU said.

“There is already too much classification of information, as the President recognized less than two years ago when he received the report of the Commission on Protection and Reduction of Government Secrecy,” Nojeim said.

The commission, chaired by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, recommended a series of steps to control the overclassification of information and to speed declassification of documents that should no longer be classified.

“The private sector has incentive enough to protect our nation’s electronic infrastructure. Instead of forcing the acceptance of its own plan, the government should develop and share ideas with the private sector,” Nojeim said.

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