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Hand-Picked Audiences

To the Editor:

The attorney general of the United States has just given yet another speech to yet another closed audience of law-enforcement officials (Viewpoint, September 18th issue). Outside the hotel where he spoke, Nashvillians gathered in opposition to the government's anti-civil-liberties initiatives.

Like many in this administration, Ashcroft has chosen to avoid speaking to the American people. Instead he prefers to speak only to hand-picked audiences, thus creating the illusion of agreement and consensus. But across this country Americans are learning about the U.S.A. Patriot Act and concluding that it goes too far. Congress is coming to the same conclusion. But Ashcroft does not seem to care what we, the people, think. Instead he is on a taxpayer-financed, closed-to-the-public "public relations" road show to defend a flawed product.

The Patriot Act has come under increasing criticism, not only from the ACLU but from Congress as well. Most recently, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 309 to 118 to repeal one of the more egregious parts of the Patriot Act -- the "sneak and peek" provision which allows law enforcement to search a home without telling the targeted individual.

On July 30th, the ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging Section 215 of the Patriot Act, a provision that vastly expands the power of FBI agents to secretly obtain records and personal belongings of innocent people in the United States, including citizens and permanent residents. Since then, Attorney General Ashcroft has launched a multi-city public relations road show promoting the controversial Patriot Act.

One of our primary concerns with the tour is that it appears to be designed to prop up other politically ailing legislative initiatives, including the act's expansive sequel known as Patriot 2. Significantly, lawmakers and advocacy groups from across the political spectrum, including conservative mainstays like the American Conservative Union and Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, oppose this legislation.

Americans are responding to the ever-growing list of examples of civil-liberties abuses in the post-9/11 fight against terrorism:

The June Department of Justice inspector general's report detailed widespread and systematic abuses of hundreds of Arab, Muslim, and South Asian men detained in the weeks after 9/11. The report showed that, even though the men were found to have no connection whatsoever to the attacks on September 11th, they were held for extreme amounts of time under a quasi-official "no-bond, no-lawyers" policy. Although the Justice Department's response has been a pat "we did nothing illegal," it's clear that most of the detainees were held on pretextual immigration violations such as an expired visa or incomplete paperwork.

The proposed neighbor-spying-on-neighbor program called Operation TIPS would have recruited Americans -- such as cable-repair persons and postal workers whose jobs grant them easy access to our homes -- as government informers charged with reporting "suspicious activity" to a dedicated tips hotline.

The initiative at the DOJ to force local and state police to enforce immigration laws is a plan opposed by law-enforcement officials themselves.

Across America, more than 160 communities, including three states, have passed resolutions against provisions of the Patriot Act and other aspects of the attorney general's domestic "war on terrorism" that undermine civil liberties without making the public safer. Resolution movements are cropping up everywhere, from the East Coast to the West Coast and from the heartland to the South. In Tennessee, coalitions are now forming across the state to promote these resolutions.

Mr. Ashcroft, Americans want to be safe, but we also want -- and deserve -- to be free.

Hedy Weinberg

Executive Director

American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee/Nashville

Resign

To the Editor:

Thank you for your editorial and Mike Niblock's cartoon regarding Bush's speech to the U.N. (September 25th issue). As you noted, the moderating hand of Colin Powell was evident in those remarks; but clearly, the president did not go far enough.

If Bush wants to convince the rest of the world that he is sincere, he'll have to apologize for the boneheaded decision he made to start a preemptive war in the first place, along with the subsequent boneheaded decisions that led to the current quagmire in Iraq. Now if Bush and Cheney would just resign, that would be a step in the right direction.

B. Keith English

Memphis

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