As Senate Begins Consideration of Anti-Terrorism Legislation, House Panel Says Concern Over Civil Liberties Requires Slowdown

September 25, 2001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union today urged Senators to follow the lead of the House of Representatives and slow down consideration of the Administration’s proposed anti-terrorism legislation so that its full impact on both security and civil liberties can be understood.

“Congress must take every reasonable step it can to protect our nation against future attacks,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU’s Washington National Office. “At the same time, the people’s representatives must also work to minimize the legislation’s impact on our free society.”

As Attorney General John Ashcroft prepared to testify about his proposed legislation before the Senate Judiciary Committee, members of the House Judiciary Committee expressed open skepticism of some of the Administration’s proposals during a hearing yesterday.

Rep. Bob Barr, R-GA, for example, pointedly asked if the Administration was seeking to rush its proposals through because many of them have failed in the past. “Does it have anything to do with the fact that the department has sought many of these authorities on numerous other occasions, has been unsuccessful in obtaining them, and now seeks to take advantage of what is obviously an emergency situation,” he said.

And Michigan Representative John Conyers, the ranking Democrat of the Judiciary Panel, also raised significant questions, saying he was “deeply troubled” by whether some provisions of the measure would violate the Constitution.

The ACLU today reiterated its belief that the Administration’s proposed counter-terrorism legislation includes both reasonable measures to give law enforcement authorities the necessary tools to investigate terrorism as well as other provisions that go far beyond addressing the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

Among the provisions of the Administration’s bill that are of greatest concern, the ACLU said, are measures that would dramatically expand law enforcement’s ability to do secret searches and would expand the government’s ability to seize assets in non-terrorism-related cases. The ACLU is also greatly concerned about provisions that would allow for the indefinite detention of non-citizens without any judicial review.

The ACLU said that several of the Administration’s proposed measures were non-objectionable, including those that would prohibit the harboring of terrorists and providing support for terrorism by rendering expert advice and assistance.

“The civil liberties we value so much as a society are at stake,” Murphy said, “and we urge you to go slowly.”

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