Civil Liberties in Grave Danger

From: Kathy Guthrie <kathyguthrie@fcnl.org>
Friends Committee on National Legislation

Dear Friend,

As you read this letter, a swiftly changing collage of Patriot II provisions, repressive immigration changes, and privacy invasions is rushing though Congress embedded in and under the disguise of legislation responding to The 9/11 Commission Report.

The extraneous provisions threaten privacy, due process, freedom of association, freedom of expression, equal protection, freedom of religion, and universal human rights. In addition, they authorize increased use of the death penalty and transfer of captives to countries known for use of torture. The pressure on individual members of Congress to pass legislation to implement the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations is enormous, so these harmful provisions must be defeated by public condemnation.

Here’s the message we must send to Congress immediately: Legislation implementing The 9/11 Commission Report must be limited to the core recommendations of the report. All extraneous law enforcement and immigration provisions must be stripped from any such legislation prior to final passage by Congress.

To contact your members of Congress, please follow the link below. We have posted a sample on our web site to help you write your message at


For additional information please see the "Background" section toward the end of this email.

Thank you for your support.

Kathy Guthrie
Field Program Secretary
Friends Committee on National Legislation

Scenario: A lengthy, complex, and confusing bill is introduced in response to public pressure for improved national security. Congressional leaders warn that the legislation is the only way to protect against terrorism and that it must be passed within days. The measure does include some provisions addressing national security, but it is loaded with, or amended by, sections that severely reduce precious constitutional protections. Changes to the legislation occur rapidly behind closed doors without public knowledge, discussion, or input. Both houses of Congress are under intense leadership and political pressure for quick and decisive passage of the bill. Sound familiar? Sound like the USA PATRIOT Act, passed in the fall of 2001? Yes, it does. But this terrible scenario is being repeated this week in Washington, D.C.

The 9/11 Commission Report, posted on the FCNL web site at http://www.fcnl.org/issues/issue.php?issue_id=67, was released in July 22, 2004. It includes a thorough description of the circumstances leading to the attack of September 11, 2001, an unflinching review of the governmental failures that made the U.S. vulnerable, and a listing of the commission’s 41 recommendations to rectify these shortcomings. (See http://www.fcnl.org/smith/comm_report.htm for an overview of the 41 recommendations.) The report instantly became a national best seller, ratcheting up political pressure to pass legislation implementing the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations. In the election season pressure cooker of the 108th Congress, when legislative votes are primarily intended to support re-election, majority and minority parties have been engaged for the past week in frenetic jockeying for introduction and amendment of measures to implement the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations.

Some of the legislative measures and amendments, particularly S. 2845, a measure introduced in the Senate by Sen. Collins (ME) and Sen. Lieberman (CT), have been bi-partisan efforts, carefully drafted to respond to the commission’s recommendations. Others, most dramatically HR 10, introduced by Speaker Hastert (IL) in the House, and amendments to S. 2845 introduced by Sen. Kyl (AZ) in the Senate, do not follow the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations about security and are freighted with provisions that diminish civil liberties protections. Taken together, these provisions include (but are not limited to):

* establishment of a national ID card, disguised as national standardization of drivers licensing;
* establishment of a national electronic database for birth and death certificates, with permanent identifying information assigned to each individual, such as a national ID number;
* biometric identifiers – including fingerprints, face recognition software photos, iris or retinal scans, and other private physical identification – for travel documents which would be used for security in domestic air travel as well as overseas travel;
* expanded secret eavesdropping and search powers to be used against individuals suspected of terrorist activity, whether or not the individual is associated with a foreign power;
* further weakening of individual privacy rights in library, medical, and other personal records, removing all federal court oversight;
* enhanced "material support" provisions, allowing guilt by association with a group targeted by the administration; removal of habeas corpus relief for those detained under repressive immigration measures;
* approval of automatic detention without bail in immigration matters at the government’s request;
* increased secrecy in immigration court matters;
* approval of the use of secret evidence in immigration courts – secret even to the immigrant being examined;
* deportation of immigrants before final appeal;
* allowing the death penalty in terrorism cases (with "terrorism" as defined in the USA PATRIOT Act);
* explicit approval of transfer of prisoners suspected of terrorism to nations known to practice torture; and
* failure to provide for a cross-agency civil liberties board for oversight and investigation of civil liberties practices and procedures in the executive branch of the federal government.

The message to Congress should be straightforward: Legislation responding to The 9/11 Commission Report must be limited to the core recommendations of the report. All extraneous law enforcement and immigration provisions must be stripped from any such legislation prior to final passage by the House and the Senate.

Informant: Martin Greenhut


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Oktober 2004

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