Republican presidential hopeful Rudolph W. Giuliani yesterday endorsed a provision to protect citizens from being sued for reporting potential terrorism-related activity and criticized congressional Democrats for blocking the legislation.
"Congressional Democrats are once again showing they just don't get the terrorists' war on us, by attempting to strip important protections for those who report suspected terrorists on airlines," said Mr. Giuliani, who was mayor of New York City during the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The provision is the sticking point in a conference committee between the House and Senate to settle differences in legislation that will enact the final recommendations of the September 11 commission. A final draft report could be released as early as tonight.
Primarily sponsored by Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican and ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, the provision would put an end to lawsuits such as the one currently filed by a group of Muslim imams who were removed from a US Airways flight in November. The Islamic scholars sued, among others, the "John Doe" passengers who reported the men were behaving suspiciously.
"Peter King is doing the right thing by putting our national security first and political correctness run amok second," said Mr. Giuliani, who also criticized Democratic presidential candidates for failing to acknowledge "Islamic terrorism" in public debates, including Monday night's YouTube gathering.
"The terrorists are at war with us — whether or not Democrats in Washington and on the campaign trail choose to acknowledge it. And we must stay on offense to prevail," Mr. Giuliani said.
The comments prompted the Council on American-Islamic Relations to issue an action alert to its members urging them to contact Mr. Giuliani's campaign "to express your concerns about his promotion of linking the faith of Islam to terrorism."
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York is the only presidential contender on the Democratic side who voted in favor of a similar proposal last week. Sens. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware voted no, and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois was absent for the vote. Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain of Arizona voted in favor of the provision and Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas was absent.
In a March House vote on the King amendment, Republican presidential candidates Reps. Duncan Hunter of California and Tom Tancredo of Colorado voted yes, while Democratic candidate Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich voted no.
Congressional aides close to the conference process say the sticking points included attempts to strip language that would make the law retroactive and effectively kill the imams' lawsuit. Mr. King said this afternoon that issue has been resolved and the law would be retroactive to October 2006, nearly two months before the imams were removed from the flight.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, is trying to amend the "John Doe" provision in the conference committee, of which he is a member. Republicans say Mr. Thompson's additions would limit the scope and effectiveness of the King amendment.
"It would only apply to federal cases, leaving a huge loophole for trial lawyers who would want to bring lawsuits under state or local laws," said one leadership aide close to the conference process.
The immunity would also apply only in cases where the intent was terrorism and not another criminal act.
"No way can you expect the ordinary citizens to make a quick determination if someone is an al Qaeda terrorist or a criminal," Mr. King said. "That will put too much of a chilling impact on the ordinary citizen to decide this and will make it meaningless."
Dena Graziano, spokeswoman for Mr. Thompson, said, "We are very close, and hopefully, we will reach an agreement soon."
"From the start, we support what [Mr. King] is trying to do, just not how he is trying to do it," said Miss Graziano, whose boss backed the measure when it was added on the House floor through a procedural vote. The conference committee "is our opportunity to amend it."