- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 4, 2001

An unusual mix of conservatives and liberals yesterday cautioned a Senate panel against trampling civil liberties in its pursuit of new law-enforcement tools to capture terrorists.

"While we may differ on many issues, we are all Americans," said Grover G. Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.

"We unite in defense of the Constitution and ordered liberty," said Mr. Norquist, who spoke on behalf of a new organization of liberal and conservative groups called In Defense of Liberty. The coalition also includes the American Civil Liberties Union, American Conservative Union, Eagle Forum and the Free Congress Foundation.

Senate Judiciary subcommittee Chairman Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, said that in light of the Sept. 11 tragedy, the most important duty of Congress is to protect civil liberties.

"We can and will give the FBI new and better tools, but we must also make sure that the new tools don't become instruments of abuse," Mr. Feingold said.

"Preserving our freedom is the reason we are now engaged in this new war on terrorism. We will lose that war without a shot being fired if we sacrifice the liberties of the American people in the belief that by doing so we will stop the terrorists," Mr. Feingold added.

The House and Senate are considering separate anti-terrorist bills proposed by the Bush administration.

The House Judiciary Committee yesterday passed a scaled-back bipartisan package titled The Patriot Act. It allows detention of non-U.S. citizens for up to seven days and authorizes roving wiretaps for a two-year period.

Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican, the leading House conservative opposed to the package, signed off yesterday on the compromise but said airport safety and intelligence gathering still need to be assessed.

Mr. Barr said he will "work hard in the days ahead to ensure these issues, which are not addressed in this legislation, receive the attention they deserve."

The Senate last night continued to negotiate what its package will contain, and committee passage could come as early as today. Majority Leader Tom Daschle said he hoped to bring the bill to the Senate floor next week but is under pressure from "5,000 different directions."

However, the South Dakota Democrat added, "there are so many points of pressure they all counterbalance, so I'm in a pressureless job right now."

Mr. Norquist called the Bush administration's request a "wish list of powers."

He told the Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee on the Constitution, federalism, and property rights, that he wrote every member of Congress, urging them to read the legislation before voting for it. Bill reading and analysis is normally left to staff members.

"I did receive one fax from the Hill asking if I was kidding. I was not," Mr. Norquist said.

Historically, Congress has passed law-enforcement statutes with the understanding that it would only pertain to certain crimes. For instance, the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) statutes were to be used against mobsters only. However, in later years, they were used against pro-life organizations, Mr. Norquist said.

When Congress gave the government power to seize private property from drug peddlers, the seizures became so sweeping the legislation had to be rewritten.

"Now we are told the government just wants to fight against terrorists. OK then, put limits in the use of these powers to terrorist cases and terrorist cases alone," Mr. Norquist said.

The most egregious provision is the language allowing indefinite detention, which the House changed to seven days, and the wiretapping, for which the House created a sunset provision.

Mr. Norquist said his group would support the sunset language. "A bad law that lasts two years is less damaging than a bad law that lasts forever," he said.

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