ACLU Urges Judiciary Committee to Amend Anti-Terrorism Bill; Says Bill Can Be Further Improved to Protect Safety and Liberty

October 3, 2001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — As anti-terrorism legislation began to move in the House of Representatives, the American Civil Liberties Union today urged members of the Judiciary Committee to accept several amendments aimed at further improving the measure to insuring that it protects safety and liberty.

“Congress can – and must – improve safety while preserving liberty,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU’s Washington National Office. “But without additional significant changes, the legislation before the House would unnecessarily weaken essential checks and balances on the authority of federal law enforcement.”

Specifically, the ACLU said it was supporting amendments that would ameliorate the worst provisions of the legislation introduced by Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-WI, and John Conyers, ranking Democrat on the Committee. Included were proposals to amend the legislation by:

  • Limiting the government’s power to indefinitely detain non-citizens. The amendment would tweak the Sensenbrenner-Conyers legislation to be consistent with a Supreme Court ruling last year and allow indefinite detention only of non-citizens who are ordered deported on “terrorism” grounds and require the Attorney General to periodically determine whether the non-citizen continues to pose a danger to the nation.

  • Restoring a modicum of judicial supervision to electronic wiretapping and limit the information about U.S. citizens that winds up in the hands of the Central Intelligence Agency. An amendment to insure that wiretaps authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act not be used as a “backdoor” way around constitutional requirements is expected.

  • Narrowing the definition of terrorism under federal law to include only acts that common sense dictates are terrorism. For example, under the proposed Sensenbrenner-Conyers legislation, an organization like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) could be considered a terrorist group because one of its members hits the Secretary of Agriculture with a pie.

    “As Governor Ridge said yesterday, liberty is a precious gift,” Murphy concluded. “Congress must reject the false choice of liberty versus safety.”

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