WASHINGTON -- The American Civil Liberties Union today expressed profound disappointment with Senate passage of the controversial anti-terrorism legislation and promised to monitor the implementation of its sweeping new powers for any abuse of civil liberties.
"This bill goes light years beyond what is necessary to combat terrorism," said Laura Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington National Office. "Included in the bill are provisions that would allow for the mistreatment of immigrants, the suppression of dissent and the investigation and surveillance of wholly innocent Americans."
In a letter to the full Senate, which adopted the legislation by a vote of 98 to 1, Murphy said the USA PATRIOT Act (HR 3162) would give enormous, unwarranted power to the executive branch unchecked by meaningful judicial review. Most of the new powers, the ACLU said, could be used against American citizens in routine criminal investigations completely unrelated to terrorism. The House passed its anti-terrorism bill yesterday 357 to 66.
Murphy praised Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI) for his decision to resist intense Administration pressure and vote against the bill, calling him a "defender of liberty."
Murphy also said she was concerned about an unusually combative speech by Attorney General John Ashcroft at the US Conference of Mayors in which he promised to begin aggressively using the sweeping new law enforcement powers included in the bill immediately after President Bush signs it into law.
In his speech, Ashcroft vowed that the "hour that [the anti-terrorism bill] becomes law, I will issue guidance to each of our 94 U.S. Attorney's Offices and 56 FBI field offices directing them to begin immediately implementing this sweeping legislation." He said the bill would open a "law enforcement campaign."
"While we are ourselves concerned for the country's safety, we are also concerned by the Attorney General's apparent gusto to implement certain provisions in the bill that threaten liberty," Murphy said. "We will be keeping a close eye on how these new powers are used by the Administration."
"These new and unchecked powers," said Gregory T. Nojeim, Associate Director of the ACLU's Washington Office, "could be used against American citizens who are not under criminal investigation, immigrants who are here within our borders legally and also against those whose First Amendment activities are deemed to be threats to national security by the Attorney General."