On Eve of War, New Right-Left Letter Opposes Justice Department Plans for Legislation That Would Diminish Liberty, Fail to Bolster Security

March 17, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – As war with Iraq looms – and fears of possible new terrorist attacks grow — a right-left letter to Congress said today that follow-up legislation to the USA PATRIOT Act would do little to bolster security in the United States while inevitably infringing on fundamental American freedoms.

A previous anti-terrorism law, the USA PATRIOT Act, was rushed through Congress in October 2001 in a crisis atmosphere. “”Some in the Administration might be tempted to use this national crisis to try to intimidate Congress into passing another PATRIOT-style bill,”” said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “”They should think twice,”” Edgar added. “”Americans agree that our safety need not come at the expense of our freedom.””

Sixty-seven organizations expressed their concerns in a letter sent today to every Member of Congress. Its strange-bedfellows signatories represented groups as far apart on the political spectrum as the American Conservative Union, Americans for Tax Reform, the Gun Owners of America, the ACLU, the NAACP and the National Council of La Raza. People of faith also expressed opposition to the Justice Department plans, including the American Baptist Churches USA, Presbyterian Church USA and the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism.

The Department of Justice has been drafting the new legislation — called the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003 (DSEA), but nicknamed PATRIOT II — in secret over the past several months. The draft language, which was leaked to the media last month, contains a multitude of new and sweeping law enforcement and intelligence gathering powers and expands on many provisions in the USA PATRIOT Act.

The big picture implications of the bill, the ACLU said, include a severe reduction of basic checks and balances on the power of the executive branch. “”If this proposal becomes law,”” Edgar said, “”it will encourage police spying on political and religious activities, allow the government to wiretap without going to court and expand wiretapping and asset forfeiture laws under an overbroad definition of domestic terrorism.””

Reaction to the leaked proposal has been quick and unfavorable. Conservative New York Times columnist William Safire called the draft legislation an “”abomination”” and Fox News Channel personality Bill O’Reilly – who recently declared “”I’m not the ACLU poster boy”” – is up in arms about several provisions in the proposal, including one that would greatly expand the ability of authorities to collect and keep DNA samples of law-abiding Americans.

The Department of Justice has been tight-lipped about the proposed bill. At a hearing earlier this month, Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI) quizzed Attorney General Ashcroft about the proposal. In response, the Attorney General, oddly, denied that a final bill existed. “”The Attorney General should know that if he goes forward with PATRIOT II as written, he’ll be facing opposition from every point on the political spectrum,”” Edgar said.

The letter can be found at:

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