Free speech group attacks anti-terror bill

WASHINGTON - The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is waging a last ditch struggle to block a so-called 'anti-terrorism' measures adopted by the House and Senate that grants the Bush Administration sweeping new powers of detention and surveillance without judicial review.

Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU Washington office warned that the measure was rammed through the Senate and House with virtually no debate and could reach the president's desk next week if the Congressional leadership decides against a House-Senate conference and votes immediately for final passage.

A House-Senate conference, she said, is the last chance to delete the most repressive, unconstitutional features of the package. She urged people to bombard their Representatives and Senators with demands that they vote against final passage.

'This bill has simply missed the mark of maximizing security and at the same time minimizing the adverse effects on America's freedoms,' she said. 'Most Americans do not recognize that Congress has just passed a bill that would give the government expanded power to invade our privacy, imprison people without due process and punish dissent.'

Late Oct. 11, with virtually no debate, the Senate bowed to the demands of President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft, approving the so-called 'U.S.A. Act' by a vote of 96 to one. Wisconsin's Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold cast the lone dissenting vote. He has also introduced a series of amendments, all of which were rejected. Murphy praised Feingold for his 'courageous attempt to protect American liberties.'

In the pre-dawn hours of Oct. 12, the House Republican leadership, at the insistence of the White House, agreed to junk the House version, called the 'Patriot Act,' which had been approved unanimously by the House Judiciary Committee, and substituted the Senate version under a rule that barred debate or amendments.

The move ignited fury in the ranks of some Democrats with Reps. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Barney Frank (D-Mass.) blasting the 'arrogance' of the leadership and their cowardly surrender to Bush administration diktat. Nevertheless, the House voted 337 to 79 to approve the Senate version. Three Republicans voted against the package and 129 Democrats voted for it.

'In rushing through its legislation, the Administration has undercut any attempt at good faith negotiations with Democrats, the American public and even members of its own party,' Murphy said. The ACLU pointed out that the House-Senate package for the first time permits law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to distribute information on any criminal investigation to the CIA, Secret Service and other military intelligence, with no judicial review and no limits on how the information can be used.

It authorizes 'sneak and peek' covert searches of homes and offices and the rifling of files and computer data banks without informing the person or persons targeted for this surveillance.

This is a green light for so-called 'black bag' operations modeled on the Watergate break-in, which ultimately forced President Nixon to resign.

The package also permits what the ACLU calls 'forum shopping' for search warrants in any court in any jurisdiction. It gives police access to 'blank' warrants in which the time, place and person targeted are filled in at the convenience of the police. It creates a new crime, 'domestic terrorism,' which the ACLU points out is entirely unnecessary since existing statutes already outlaw all forms of terrorism.

But under this statute, the government can levy heavy penalties for minor offenses including political protests such as the peaceful sit-ins against the World Trade Center and the World Bank.

The bill for the first time permits the CIA to spy on people in the U.S. Specifically, it permits the FBI to share information with the CIA about terrorism in general even it is about law-abiding American citizens.

It permits the indefinite detention of non-citizens without judicial review. Even at this moment, CNN is reporting nearly 700 people have been taken into custody with many held without criminal charges in a dragnet search for 'terrorists.' The overwhelming majority have been innocent people released after detention and interrogation.