Don't Sacrifice Civil Liberties; Individual Rights in the War on Terror

Article excerpt

Byline: Nat Hentoff, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, makes the essential point that "it is not necessary to sacrifice civil liberties in order to increase security." In agreement, a number of prominent conservative organizations have joined with liberal groups to tell the president and the Republican congressional leadership to revise certain language in the Patriot Act.

The Free Congress Foundation is part of this "Coalition of Conscience," as some of the diverse participants call it. The foundation vigorously protects the free exercise of religion and the sanctity of traditional marriage, among its other concerns.

In a recent report, "Better Now Than later: Tightening the USA Patriot Act," Steve Lilienthal, the foundation's director of the Center for Privacy and Technology Policy, details bipartisan bills now in the Senate that do not repeal any part of the Patriot Act, but do limit some of its language that imperils a number of our fundamental liberties.

He cites Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski's Protecting the Rights of Individuals Act, which, Mr. Lilienthal writes, "revises the Patriot Act to ensure a higher standard of judicial oversight, and accountability to Congress." Another vital section of the bill, which has bipartisan Senate support, is its "modification of the definition of domestic terrorism."

A summary of this proposed law explains: "The USA Patriot Act provided a new definition for domestic terrorism, covering any act dangerous to human life that is a violation of any federal or state criminal law, including misdemeanors. This could be broadly interpreted to designate typical political protesters engaged in civil disobedience as 'terrorists.' "

This loose language should be rewritten, says Mr. Lilienthal, "to ensure political activists exercising their legitimate First Amendment rights cannot be targeted by overzealous bureaucrats or a future administration. That was something that responsible members of Congress never intended when they passed the Patriot Act in 2001."

So, instead of defining domestic terrorism as violating any federal or state law, including misdemeanors, Miss Murkowski's bill would modify and narrow the Patriot Act's definition of domestic terrorism. The revised definition would cover "only activities that involve acts dangerous to human life that are a federal crime of terrorism as already defined in the United States Code. …