The ACLU defends due process and dissent
When Attorney General Ashcroft questioned the patriotism of the administration’s critics and political rivals, the ACLU responded with a national media campaign urging Americans to defend their Constitution. “Don’t let the Constitution be rewritten by terrorism,” the organization warned in one ad. “The acts of terrorism that struck our country on September 11 were intended not only to destroy but also to intimidate, forcing us, as a nation, to take actions that are not in our best interest. If we allow these attacks to alter our basic freedoms, the enemy will have won.”
Another four-page ad encouraged Americans to take part in the broader public debate about balancing civil liberties and national security: “Americans everywhere are strug- gling to reconcile their strong commitment to personal freedom with the changes wrought by the tragedies of September 11,” it said, encouraging individuals to stay informed, to take action by contacting their elected representatives, and to join the ACLU.
The ACLU sued the government under the Freedom of Information Act, to disclose the names and whereabouts of detainees incarcerated since Sept. 11. The administration has been ordered repeatedly to release their names but has refused to do so, filing appeal after appeal, as described elsewhere in this report. Warren Christopher, who was President Clinton’s secretary of state, finds this administration’s penchant
for secrecy especially troubling. He told The New York Times recently that the administration’s refusal to identify the people it had detained reminded him of the “disappeareds” in Argentina. “I’ll never forget going to Argentina and seeing the mothers marching in the streets asking for the names of those being held by the government,” he said. “We must be very careful in this country about taking people into custody without revealing their names.” The ACLU brought suits in federal courts to force the opening of secret deporta- tion hearings, from which the government had barred the press, the public and even members of Congress. The administration has been ordered in two separate 9/11 cases to end its policy of closed deportation hearings. District Court Judge Nancy Edmunds ruled in a Detroit case, from which the adminis- tration had barred two news- papers, a member of Congress and hundreds of others, that “openness is necessary to the public to maintain confidence in the value and sound- ness of the government’s actions, as secrecy only breeds suspicion.” In striking down closed hearings in a case brought in New Jersey, a federal judge ruled that his opinion applied to hearings nationwide. “IF A NONCITIZEN LIKE ZACARIAS MOUSSAOUI CAN BE TRIED IN A REGULAR COURT OF LAW, SURELY A UNITED STATES CITIZEN ARRESTED ON AMERICAN SOIL CAN BE AFFORDED THE SAME ACCESS TO JUSTICE,” SAID ROMERO, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE ACLU. AS WAS DEMONSTRATED IN THE PROSECUTIONS OF THE 1993 WORLD TRADE CENTER BOMBERS AND OKLAHOMA CITY BOMBER TIMOTHY MCVEIGH, HE SAID, “OUR COURTS ARE CAPABLE OF METING OUT JUSTICE EVEN IN THE MOST HORRIFIC OF CIRCUMSTANCES.”