The administration sought to try suspected foreign terrorists before military tribunals instead of civilian judges and juries, appropriating to itself powers once reserved for the judiciary, in what one federal judge has called “the most profound shift in our legal institutions in my lifetime.”
The government is also pitting neighbor against neighbor. With its Operation TIPS (Terrorism Information and Prevention System), the government sought to conscript postal workers, delivery agents, and utility workers to spy and report on law-abiding Americans in and around their own homes. Though it later announced a less invasive plan, in response to storms of protest from the ACLU and others, it still plans to use ordinary untrained citizens as domestic spies. In Detroit, home to America’s largest Arab American community, Middle Eastern émigrés keep a low profile — some won’t even go to court to fight parking tickets — for fear they may be accused of something worse. Like Malek Zeidan, a native of Syria, who had lived in Paterson, N.J., for 14 years when Immigration and Naturalization Service agents came calling; Zeidan was on his job at Dunkin’ Donuts when they showed up to question him about a former roommate. He wound up spending 40 days in jail because of an expired visa.
The trouble with the government’s no-holds-barred strategy is that it entails an unnecessary trade-off between freedom and safety, as if by giving up the blessings of liberty we could save lives.
This is a false dichotomy, as false today as it was during earlier roundups of Bolsheviks and Japanese Americans — dark periods in our national history, for which later administrations have had to apologize.
Increased security is essential, but it is possible to be both safe and free. Government can thoroughly investigate, prevent and prosecute terror- ism while preserving our most fundamental rights and liberties. To deprive Americans of fundamental rights and permanently change our way of life makes us less secure. In poll after poll, Americans have indicated that they are concerned that the government will do too little to increase security, and too much to restrict liberty.
IN THE YEAR SINCE THE SEPT.11 ATTACKS, THE ACLU HAS LED THE RESISTANCE AGAINST NEW POLICIES AND PRACTICES THAT STRIKE AT THE HEART OF WHAT THIS DEMOCRACY IS ALL ABOUT. THE ACLU HAS FOUGHT MEASURES THAT ROLL BACK FUNDAMENTAL PROTECTIONS AND JEOPARDIZE BASIC FREEDOMS — EMPLOYING LAWSUITS, TESTIMONY IN CONGRESS, AND DIRECT APPEALS TO CITIZENS WHO MAY NOT REALIZE THAT THEIR WAY OF LIFE IS ENDANGERED.
If the national disgrace known as the Palmer Raids teaches us nothing else, it is that the democracy we are at war to protect will be diminished if the trampling of our constitutional rights goes unchecked.
Nadine Strossen, President, ACLU
Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director, ACLU