- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 10, 2003

President Bush yesterday urged Congress to remove “unreasonable obstacles” that prevent law enforcement officials from investigating and prosecuting terrorists, decrying legal loopholes that allow suspects to post bail and leave the country — “or worse.”

“Members of the Congress agree that we need to close the loopholes; not every member, but a lot of them agree with that,” the president said. “People in law enforcement are counting on Congress to follow through.”

Delivering an update on homeland-security efforts at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., on the eve of the September 11 anniversary, Mr. Bush said Congress must give law enforcement the same powers to hunt down terrorists that they now have to arrest and hold other criminals, including suspected drug traffickers, embezzlers and mobsters.

“The House and the Senate have a responsibility to act quickly on these matters. Untie the hands of our law enforcement officials so they can fight and win the war against terror,” he said. “For the sake of the American people, Congress should change the law, and give law enforcement officials the same tools they have to fight terror that they have to fight other crime.”

For instance, the president said, “administrative subpoenas” that enable law enforcement officials to obtain certain records quickly cannot be obtained in terrorist cases.

“If we can use these subpoenas to catch crooked doctors, the Congress should allow law enforcement officials to use them in catching terrorists,” he said, drawing applause from hundreds of camo-clad Marines and FBI Academy students, many wearing lanyards with the letters “DEA” on them. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III joined the president on stage for the event.

“Today, people charged with certain crimes, including some drug offenses, are not eligible for bail. But terrorist-related crimes are not on that list. Suspected terrorists could be released, free to leave the country, or worse, before the trial. This disparity in the law makes no sense.

“If dangerous drug dealers can be held without bail in this way, Congress should allow for the same treatment for accused terrorists,” Mr. Bush said.

He also said that capital punishment should apply for terrorist crimes.

“Sabotaging a defense installation or a nuclear facility in a way that takes innocent life does not carry the federal death penalty. This kind of technicality should never protect terrorists from the ultimate justice,” he said.

The president used yesterday’s speech to spell out the federal government’s efforts to make Americans more secure from terrorist attacks, declaring his administration has “taken unprecedented, effective measures to protect this homeland, yet our nation has more to do.”

“We will never be complacent. We will defend our people and we will win this war,” he said.

Recent polls show that Americans feel more secure after the war in Iraq. An ABC survey showed almost six in 10 thought the war in Iraq had reduced the risk of terrorism in America, twice the number who thought it had made the risk higher.

Mr. Bush’s plea to Congress yesterday was criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union, which called the proposal an expansion of “unprecedented policing powers.”

“It is unfortunate that President Bush would use this tragic date to continue to endorse the increasingly unpopular anti-civil liberties policies of Attorney General Ashcroft and the Department of Justice,” said Anthony Romero, ACLU executive director. “Rather than rubber-stamping new powers for the attorney general, the president should respond to the voices of Americans from the right, left and center and disavow the attorney general’s power grabs over the last two years.”

Audrey Hudson contributed to this report.

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