Senate Approves Anti-Terrorism Package
By Jesse J. Holland, Associated Press Writer, October 25, 2001
WASHINGTON -- The Senate sent President Bush legislation today giving police new and expanded powers to track, punish and detain suspected terrorists.
The bill, sought five days after the hijacked airliner attacks in New York and Washington, was passed by the Senate on a 98-1 vote. The House passed it with overwhelming support on Wednesday and Bush is expected to sign it before the end of the week.
"I look forward to signing this strong bipartisan plan into law so that we can combat terrorism and prevent future attacks," Bush said Wednesday.
The legislation, somewhat weakened from what Attorney General John Ashcroft proposed, expands the FBI's wiretapping and electronic surveillance authority and imposes stronger penalties for harboring or financing terrorists. It also redefines what terrorist acts are and increases the punishment for them.
"These laws will help ensure that Americans will never be violated in the way we were on Sept. 11," said Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Some senators are unhappy with the final product. "This bill does not strike the right balance between empowering law enforcement and protecting civil liberties," said Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis.
But the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said negotiators have placed safeguards on the legislation, like a four-year expiration date on the wiretapping and electronic surveillance portion, court permission before snooping into suspects' formerly private educational records and court oversight over the FBI's use of a powerful e-mail wiretap system.
"We were able to find what I think is the appropriate balance between protecting civil liberties, privacy and ensuring that law enforcement has the tools to do what it must," said Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle, D-S.D. said.
However, human rights and privacy advocates contend many problems remain in the final compromise.
"These new and unchecked powers could be used against American citizens who are not under criminal investigation, immigrants who are here within our borders legally, and also against those whose First Amendment activities are deemed to be a threat to national security by the attorney general," an American Civil Liberties Union letter says.
One of the most contentious portions of Bush's proposal would have allowed the attorney general to detain indefinitely until deportation any immigrant suspected of terrorism. House and Senate negotiators placed safeguards on that proposal by forcing to the attorney general to start deportation procedures immediately, charge the person with a crime or release the foreigner in seven days.
Some human rights advocates want it changed even more so that immigrants would not have to stay in jail while their cases go through the deportation process.
That "can result in a virtual life sentence, and the bill provides only the barest of judicial oversight of the attorney general's new power," said Elisa Massimino, director of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights.
The only senator voting against the bill was Russell Feingold, D-Wis. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., did not vote.
© 2001 Associated Press
Reprinted for Fair Use Only.