Statement of Gregory T. Nojeim, ACLU Washington Legislative Office Associate Director/Chief Legislative Counsel
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON - Although, as a matter of policy, the American Civil Liberties Union takes no position on Michael Chertoff's nomination to head the Homeland Security Department, we are troubled that his public record suggests he sees the Bill of Rights as an obstacle to national security, rather than a guidebook for how to do security properly.
He has been a vocal champion of the Bush administration's pervasive belief that the executive branch should be free of many of the checks and balances that keep it from abusing its immense power over our lives and liberty.
His nomination as head of the Department of Homeland Security - a new and untested agency with great influence on civil liberties - means that Chertoff should be questioned aggressively to ensure his fitness for the position, and the strength of his dedication to the Bill of Rights.
This is made more imperative by the fact that, as with Attorney General-nominee Alberto Gonzales, some of Chertoff's post-9/11 policies have been repudiated by others in the government. Namely, two reports by the Justice Department's inspector general, released in June and December 2003, castigated Chertoff's use of rarely enforced and minor immigration violations to hold non-citizens shortly after 9/11 for as long as possible, without bail or access to a lawyer. None of these non-citizens was found to have any connection to the 9/11 attacks.
Chertoff was also an architect of the USA Patriot Act, which has come under increasing fire from conservatives and progressives alike since its passage in 2001.
He was instrumental in revising the internal "Attorney General Guidelines" to allow the FBI to infiltrate religious and political gatherings with undercover agents, and he was apparently the catalyst behind the federal Bureau of Prisons rule change permitting agents to eavesdrop on previously confidential attorney-client conversations in federal prisons. And, he directed the initial "voluntary" dragnet interviews of thousands of Arabs and Muslims.
We urge the Senate to exercise fully its advice and consent powers and explore the Chertoff record, and how it will impact civil liberties.