As Commission on Civil Rights Examines Freedom Post 9/11, ACLU Says Fears Setting Public Policy

March 19, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today joined other civil liberties experts in telling the United States Commission on Civil Rights that invasive security measures established after 9/11 threaten freedom and civil rights in the United States.

“We run the danger of letting our fears, not our values, set public policy,” ACLU Legislative Counsel Timothy Edgar told the commission, which is an independent, bipartisan agency tasked with monitoring federal civil rights enforcement. “The American public deserves a government that preserves both their security and their liberty.”

Today’s briefing follows similar oversight hearings by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and increased public scrutiny of the security measures established after September 11.

In his testimony before the Commission, Edgar focused on the USA PATRIOT Act, the 2001 law that passed just six weeks after the terrorist attacks, as well as other government policies adopted since 9/11. The Patriot Act diminishes procedural checks and balances on executive powers, Edgar said, which are essential to preserving individual liberty.

For instance, the Justice Department uses surveillance and investigative powers, granted or expanded in the PATRIOT Act, in cases completely unrelated to terrorism. The Attorney General lobbied for the PATRIOT Act, though, as a tool to combat al-Qaeda-style terrorism.

The PATRIOT Act has garnered heavy media attention, but it’s just one of the Bush administration’s attacks on freedom and civil rights. Equally worrisome is:

  • The President single-handedly designating American citizens as “enemy combatants,” devoid of due process rights
  • The Defense Department permitting use of military commissions — also absent due process protections — against non-citizens
  • The increasing use of racial profiling by local and federal law enforcement
  • The capricious detention and deportation of non-citizens at the hands of the Justice and Homeland Security Departments.

“We must be ready to defend liberty because liberty cannot defend itself,” Edgar said. “We, as a nation, have no trouble understanding the necessity of a military defense. But there is another equally powerful defense that is required, and that is the defense of our Constitution – the defense of our most cherished freedoms.”

The ACLU’s testimony can be found at:
/node/24862

For more on the ACLU’s campaign to Keep America Safe and Free, go to:
www.aclu.org/safeandfree

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