- The Washington Times - Friday, March 7, 2003

Attorney General John Ashcroft yesterday told a House committee the Justice Department, in its pursuit of terrorists since the September 11 attacks, had not violated civil liberties and remained intent on "protecting and nourishing an environment of freedom."
"The only thing worth securing, if we are seeking security, is securing freedom. And we must not abandon freedom in the pursuit of security," Mr. Ashcroft told members of the House Appropriations Committee at the start of a hearing on the department's $23.3 billion budget for fiscal 2004.
His comments came after Rep. Jose E. Serrano, New York Democrat, expressed concern about whether the Justice Department's global efforts to confront terrorists, including the rounding up of suspected illegal immigrants in this country, threatened civil liberties.
"I have the highest regard for the Justice Department and all the important work it does. The response to the attacks of September 11 was and is deeply appreciated by New Yorkers, especially this one," Mr. Serrano said.
"On the other hand, some of the policies the department has proposed to combat terrorism are deeply troubling, and I fear some officials are so intent on fighting against terror that they forget what we are fighting for," he said.
Mr. Serrano said he and others feared that during times of crisis, some steps could be taken by the department to cause "long-term harm to the values we stand for," adding that other crises had led to civil rights abuses in the past, including the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
"I don't like people reading my e-mails or listening to my phone calls. The books I buy are my own business. I don't like people poking around in my personal life, for my personal life is not a threat to my country," he said. "And my constituents feel the same."
Mr. Serrano acknowledged a "very delicate balance" between protecting the United States from terrorists, finding them, bringing them to justice, preventing further acts of terrorism and preserving civil liberties, and that maintaining that balance was "extremely difficult."
"But we must never tip the balance away from the rights and freedoms that make us Americans and make the United States a beacon to the world," he said. "After all, our struggle is about freedom. … It's about our freedom, it's about other people's freedoms.
"If we forget who we are and behave badly here or in other places, then they won, the September 11 crowd would have won," he said.
Mr. Ashcroft described the safeguarding of civil liberties as "the single most important task we have."
"At the beginning of this republic, when there were but four Cabinet agencies, there was the Department of State to deal with foreign powers; a Department of War to wage war and defense; a Department of the Treasury to look after financial matters; and it is no shock to learn that the Attorney General's Office became the office which developed a focus on protecting and nourishing an environment of freedom," he said.
"That's why we have a special sensitivity to it. And we always need to be reminded and welcome reminding that the pursuit of civil liberties is the responsibility of the Justice Department," he said. "And we will continue to make that our highest priority."

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