- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 25, 2001

Attorney General John Ashcroft yesterday outlined the administration's plan to combat terrorism to the House Judiciary Committee, but members from both parties expressed concerns that some portions of the bill threaten civil liberties.

"If we quickly cast aside our constitutional form of government, then the enemy will not be the terrorists, it will be us," said Rep. John Conyers Jr., ranking committee member and Michigan Democrat.

Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican, said President Bush and Congress are right to examine current laws, but cautioned against trampling civil liberties.

"What we must avoid is the impulse to hastily approve wholesale changes to search and seizure, surveillance, immigration and other laws in an understandable but misguided attempt to thwart future attacks," Mr. Barr said.

"Our immediate reaction must not be to blindly expand law enforcement's investigative authority, or the government's prosecutorial authority, without at least first engaging in a serious deliberative effort to examine how and why execution of current authority was not successful," Mr. Barr said.

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., committee chairman and Wisconsin Republican, had scheduled a committee vote on the measure today. He rescheduled the committee action to next week after Democrats complained they had not been given enough time to review the bill.

Republicans and Democrats have sorted the president's proposal into categories of what they can support, what can be negotiated, and what is objectionable.

Laura Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington office, said she worked with the committee over the weekend to review the proposal. Specifically, the ACLU and some committee members are concerned many provisions go beyond fighting terrorism and contain immigration language with lasting implications.

The anti-terrorism proposal would allow federal courts to issue a single order that would apply to every form of communication that a targeted person uses, including those outside the region where the court is located.

"Technology has dramatically outpaced our statutes. Law enforcement tools created decades ago were crafted for rotary telephones, not e-mail, the Internet, mobile communications and voice mail," Mr. Ashcroft said.

Critics fear such broad taps aimed at persons would ensnare innocent individuals not under investigation and invade their privacy.

The bill would eliminate the statue of limitations on terrorist acts and enhance the authority of the Immigration and Naturalization Service to detain or remove suspected alien terrorists from the country.

Opponents are concerned the immigration law will become permanent, and that without legal hearings, there would be no opportunity to scrutinize the criteria upon which a decision was made.

Mr. Ashcroft urged Republicans and Democrats alike to quickly pass the legislation and increase investigatory tools to help law enforcement officials capture, prosecute and convict terrorists.

"The American people do not have the luxury of unlimited time in erecting the necessary defenses to future acts. Terrorism is a clear and present danger to Americans today," Mr. Ashcroft said.

However, he could not assure the panel that the measures would prevent future acts of violence. "There is absolutely no guarantee that these safeguards would have avoided the September 11 occurrence," Mr. Ashcroft said.

Mr. Sensenbrenner urged his colleagues in both the House and Senate to "work as expeditiously as possible to give the administration the tools and resources necessary for this urgent mission."

The Senate Select Intelligence Committee yesterday heard testimony on the administration's proposal and a Democratic anti-terrorism plan. Today, Mr. Ashcroft will present the administration's proposal to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide