Attack on Terrorism Misses Target, Hits America's Freedoms Instead, Charges the ACLU

June 5, 2000 12:00 am

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Monday, June 5, 2000

WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union today criticized a new report by the National Commission on Terrorism, which included several disturbing recommendations, including putting the Pentagon in charge when there is a terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

“This report is a virtual smorgasbord of civil liberties violations,” said ACLU Legislative Counsel Gregory T. Nojeim, who pointed to a broad range of red flags raised by the Commission’s report.

“Soldiers are trained to kill, not to protect people’s constitutional and civil rights,” Nojeim said. “Just a few years ago, the U.S. sent troops to Haiti for the express purpose of putting their military out of the business of law enforcement. Congress should reject this attempt to put military units on our city streets.”

Since shortly after the Civil War, a federal law known as the Posse Comitatus Act has barred military involvement in civilian law enforcement. The Commission’s proposal would require Congress to create a new exception to the Act.

“The Commission’s recommendation that the FBI be permitted to secretly wiretap and monitor someone’s innocent conversations solely because he or she is a member of designated group poses a dangerous threat to our First Amendment right to freedom of association,” Nojeim said.

Among the Commission’s other troublesome recommendations were:

  • Loosening guidelines intended to protect civil liberties when the FBI conducts counter-terrorism investigations.
  • Easing controls against recruiting foreign terrorists and human rights abusers — including those who have targeted Americans — as CIA informants.
  • Treating all foreign students as if each is a potential terrorist whose studies and movements must be monitored.

In a surprise move likely to buttress bipartisan reform legislation pending in Congress, the Commission rejected the current use of secret evidence to indefinitely imprison foreign residents. “Even the National Commission on Terrorism rejected the government’s method of using of secret evidence in immigration proceedings — an unexpected silver lining to an otherwise ominous cloud,” Nojeim said.

The recommendation stopped short of prohibiting secret evidence, instead suggesting that attorneys with security clearance be allowed access to evidence unavailable to their clients.

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