On Eve of One-Year Anniversary, ACLU Says Terrorist Attacks Have Changed American Law, Society

September 9, 2002 12:00 am

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On Eve of One-Year Anniversary, ACLU Says Terrorist Attacks Have Changed American Law, Society: Statement of Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director

Statement of Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director


NEW YORK- One year after the tragic terrorist attacks of September 11, much has fundamentally changed in America. Some of these changes, like a renewed sense of national purpose, are heartening. Yet much else is deeply disturbing to those who cherish freedom and the American way of life. And perhaps the most disturbing change is the government’s apparent belief that our society cannot be both safe and free.

Certainly the terrorists who attacked us took insidious advantage of our tolerance and our love of liberty — enjoying our freedoms while plotting our destruction. But does that mean our freedoms are at fault? Or that being tolerant of others is wrong? Our answer is an emphatic “NO.” The principles enshrined in our Constitution are the bedrock of our country. They define us as a people. They are the source of our strength as a nation. They are our enduring legacy to the world. Defending them in a time of national crisis is more than an act of patriotism — it is a moral imperative.

As numerous polls have shown, many Americans are concerned about the ongoing erosion of their basic freedoms in the name of unproven security measures. Examples include the government’s plan to recruit American workers – including bus and truck drivers — to spy on their fellow Americans; the secrecy surrounding the hundreds of Arabs, South Asians and Muslims who have been detained or deported; the plan to monitor confidential attorney-client conversations; the selective enforcement of immigration laws based on race, ethnicity and country of origin; and the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act and the often-unchecked powers it gave law enforcement agencies.

Of particular concern about USA PATRIOT and other government actions are the new security measures that erode and evade judicial review. Checks and balances are the cornerstone of our democracy. The Founders established the judicial branch of government to protect our rights, a role they can’t play if Congress explicitly forbids them from even reviewing and law enforcement actions.

Yet the courts have shown remarkable resilience and courage in the face of government power grabs. In case after case brought by the ACLU and others, courts have repudiated the government’s continued attempts to shroud its actions in secrecy.

Most recently, on August 26, a unanimous federal appeals court panel in Ohio struck down the government’s blanket policy of conducting secret deportation hearings in post-Sept. 11 cases. As Judge Damon Keith, author of the decision, so eloquently put it, “”Democracies die behind closed doors.””

Earlier that same week, a newly released decision from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court rebuked the government’s response to last year’s terrorist attacks and exposed Attorney General John Ashcroft’s efforts to use intelligence powers to circumvent the Constitution.

This week, as the nation marks a tragic anniversary when thousands of innocent men and women died, we at the ACLU are also mourning our friends and neighbors who died at the World Trade Center and those who perished at the Pentagon and in the crash outside Pittsburgh. But our sadness is tempered by our belief in the strength of our democratic traditions and our nation’s love of liberty. Now more than ever, we must have the courage of America’s convictions, and we must lead with our values rather than follow our fears.

For a complete collection of ACLU documents, analysis and commentary on civil liberties after 9-11, see:

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