Red Alert: ACLU of NJ Calls Counter-Terrorism Chief's Comments Counter-Productive

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
March 21, 2003 12:00 am

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NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey today severely criticized a high-level state official for saying that in the event of a “red alert” security level, “You literally are staying at home?What we’re saying is, ‘Everybody sit down.’ If you are left standing, you are probably a terrorist.”

“What that statement describes is essentially martial law,” said Deborah Jacobs, Executive Director of the ACLU of New Jersey.

“If ever necessary,” Jacobs added, “such extreme actions could only be justified in exceptionally limited situations where an investigation could pose a direct danger to the public in a restricted geographic area.”

Since the official, Sid Caspersen, the Director of the New Jersey Office of Counter-Terrorism, made his statements, Jacobs said that the ACLU has received dozens of phone calls from members of the public concerned about the consequences of a red-alert lockdown. Some parents, for example, said they feared that they would be unable to find their children.

“While the Governor’s office seeks to assuage the public’s anxiety, comments like Caspersen’s seem only to exacerbate things,” Jacobs said.

Another point of concern that Caspersen’s comments raised was the claim that New Jersey has recently secretly arrested and detained suspected terrorists. Caspersen told listeners of a radio program on which he was interviewed that the public isn’t “going to read about them any time soon.”

“In one breath, Caspersen tries to encourage public trust by stating that ‘the state’s on top of it.’ In the next breath, he brags about secret arrests,” Jacobs said. “The proven way to create public trust is to conduct government business in the open.”

Jacobs said that as part of its ongoing litigation challenging government secrecy, the ACLU would seek to learn more about the “secret arrests” that Caspersen highlighted.

The ACLU currently has two pending cases concerning government secrecy since September 11. The first involves the closure of courtrooms for more than 1,000 immigration hearings, ordered closed on September 21, 2001 by the Chief U.S. Immigrant Judge. The case is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

A second case involves the refusal of the government to release the names of individuals who were arrested on immigration violations in the weeks following September 11. This case is currently before an appeals court in Washington.

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