Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Revised Antiterrorism Bill Rides Again

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Revised Antiterrorism Bill Rides Again

Article excerpt

A CONTROVERSIAL antiterrorism bill, which seems to have more lives than a cat, will likely reach a vote in the House this week - testing how much lawmakers are willing to loosen civil liberties in the name of safety.

The bill was first set in motion more than a year ago by President Clinton after terrorist bombings in Israel. It was given new life after the Oklahoma City bombing, passing in the Senate, but it was thought to be demolished last fall by an unlikely coalition of freshmen congressmen, the National Rifle Association (NRA), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and Arabs and Muslim Americans.

But now the bill is back. House Judiciary Committee chairman Henry Hyde (R) of Illinois drained away many of the domestic antiterrorism provisions, like roving wiretaps, that were included after the Oklahoma City bombing. Left in are most of the provisions targeting international terrorism. Pinned onto the bill are some favorite GOP Contract With America crime provisions that relax current laws of habeas corpus, allowing for speedier death penalties.

Both supporters and critics of the bill are engaging in a tough media-image war. Bill sponsors last week brought together families shattered by the Oklahoma City bombing to plead for greater federal ability to pursue terrorists. Diane Leonard, a saleswoman for a greeting-card company, had seldom thought about terrorism until her husband, Don, a Secret Service agent, was killed in the blast. She supports a crackdown.

Opponents of the bill who gathered for the cameras included the family of bombing victim Julie Welch, an interpreter for the Social Security Administration, as well as two former death-row inmates who would either be on death row or executed had the proposed habeas laws been enacted.

The antiterror legislation would set dangerous precedents, say civil libertarians. The bill, which allows secret evidence to be presented in court, would damage due process, they say. In addition, proposals allowing the executive branch to designate overseas groups as terrorist would make foreign policy arbitrary and political. (While Hamas and Jewish extremist groups have been designated as terrorist, for example, Sinn Fein, the military wing of the Irish Republican Army, has not. …

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