In Testimony Before the Senate, ACLU President Urges Congress Protect Against Executive Branch Overreach in Terrorism Investigation

December 4, 2001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — In testimony before a Senate committee, the American Civil Liberties Union today strongly urged Congress to reclaim its constitutional duty to oversee executive branch action. The ACLU said the Senate should be deeply troubled by unilateral policy changes by the Administration in the terrorism investigation.

“Congress has unfortunately been cut out of the loop,” said Nadine Strossen, ACLU President and Professor of Law at New York Law School. “Congress must fulfill its constitutional obligations and ensure that the war on terrorism not cause a grievous injury to American democracy.”

In her prepared testimony, Strossen specifically criticized the Bureau of Prisons regulation allowing government eavesdropping on previously confidential attorney-client conversations as “unnecessary” and as a dangerous threat to the effective assistance of defense counsel. She also called the recent announcement by the Department of Justice that it would request ‘voluntary’ interviews with over 5,000 Arabs and Muslims in the United States based solely on their national origin “inherently coercive.”

Strossen also raised concerns with Attorney General Ashcroft’s blanket refusal to release essential information about the over 1,200 detainees being held in connection with the investigation, many on minor immigration violations. According to news reports, only 27 of these detainees have any information related to investigating the Sept. 11 attacks. Strossen called it the largest campaign of preventive detention since the Japanese internment in World War II.

Today’s hearing is one of a series called by the Senate Judiciary Committee to examine several controversial policy changes made over the past month by the Administration in the terrorism investigation. Several members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, including Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), have publicly voiced concerns over these recent curtailments of civil liberties.

“Throughout this investigation, the Administration has adopted a ‘trust us, we’re the government’ attitude toward its critics and the American people,” Strossen said. “But for our democracy to thrive, Congress and the American public must cast a skeptical eye over any attempt by the executive branch to amass new unchecked powers.”

Strossen’s Testimony can be found at:

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