- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 2, 2002

Despite the military victory in Afghanistan, the United States remains under threat of serious terrorist attack. Apparently, the international terrorist network is still sufficiently operational to put a suicidal nut on a plane with a bomb in his shoe. But much worse has been openly threatened, including attacks with biological, chemical or nuclear weapons of mass destruction.

Terrorist cells established long ago may remain in the U.S. They may have already stockpiled the weapons, and the plans for attack may have been preset for some time.

Naturally, Americans expect their government to act vigorously to counter this threat. And it has. Besides the military action abroad, the government has, as it must, undertaken extensive investigations here in the U.S. to pre-empt the threatened wave of further attacks.

As part of this effort, the FBI has sent letters to thousands of foreign men, mostly from the Middle East, in the U.S. on temporary visas. The letters ask for interviews with FBI agents regarding what they may know that may shed light on the identity of potential terrorists and their organizations, plans and actions.

The letters stress that the interviews are purely voluntary, with absolutely no sanctions for rejecting the interviews. As the letters quite rightly state, information that might seem totally innocent and useless to those being interviewed may help investigators connect dots and uncover plots against the American people.

But the FBI has run up against a virulent homegrown foe in this effort the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Inexplicably, the ACLU sees this request for voluntary interviews as somehow a violation of civil rights. As the executive director of the Virginia ACLU explained, "[The interviews] really violate the spirit of the American criminal justice system. It has some of the elements of something like McCarthyism."

As a result, the ACLU has declared an open jihad against the FBI investigative effort. They have openly encouraged those receiving the letters not to participate. They have offered free legal help to anyone who chooses to resist the requested interviews.

Indeed, the ACLU has even written to police chiefs across the country asking them not to cooperate with the FBI effort. Almost all have had the good sense to reject these pleas. But the ACLU campaign has borne some fruit, as police chiefs in San Francisco, Detroit, Portland, Ore., San Jose, Calif. and Austin, Tex. have all refused to assist the FBI in carrying out such interviews in their localities.

As a result, the ACLU now is openly interfering with the government's efforts to prevent another terrorist attack, and find all those who assisted in the planning and execution of the attack on September 11. Given the magnitude of the danger to the American people, this is astounding.

Indeed, the Bush administration is getting more cooperation today in the war against terrorism from the governments of Syria, Sudan, and Yemen than from the so-called American Civil Liberties Union.

Voluntary interviews cannot remotely be considered a violation of civil rights. Government investigators quite routinely interview innocents who may have evidence of crime. The idea that investigators are precluded from acting to stop possible future crimes is preposterous.

Of course, the government cannot just be given a blank check to do whatever it wants in the battle against terrorism. It must be monitored closely to ensure it does not veer into true civil rights violations and abuses, as we have seen as recently as Ruby Ridge and Waco in the past decade. There is also a serious danger that precedents set now could be abused in the future.

But the country remains under serious threat of attack with the most heinous weapons that could kill hundreds of thousands of innocent Americans. Under these circumstances, we have no choice but to take certain risks with government power that we would not otherwise.

Moreover, if we maintain vigilance, we have a powerful array of institutions to throttle and quickly punish any real abuses should they arise. These institutions include the media, numerous civil rights organizations, the courts, and countervailing institutions in the government itself. Indeed, if a true threat to civil liberties arises, the right as well as the left will be joining together to squelch it.

The ACLU, however, is just not a reliable defender of civil rights. It is freighted with left-wing baggage that spawns anti-Americanism, which leads it to see civil rights violations where none exist. Moreover, it cherishes old socialist doctrines, dating from its roots, that prevent it from defending civil rights across the board, including property rights and economic liberties.

Robert Carleson is the chairman and Peter Ferrara is the executive director of the American Civil Rights Union, a conservative alternative to the ACLU.


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