“The delirium caused by the bombings turned in the direction of a
deportation crusade with the spontaneity of water seeking out the course of
least resistance.” So wrote Louis F. Post about the Palmer Raids of
1919-20, when the federal government responded to a series of terrorist
bombings by rounding up thousands of foreigners, not for their connection
to the bombings but for technical immigration violations and association
with various factions of the Communist Party.

Post’s description equally captures the Bush administration’s response to
the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Once again the government pursued
“the course of least resistance,” rounding up thousands of foreigners, not
for terrorist activity but for technical immigration violations. Many were
arrested in secret, held without charges, denied access to lawyers,
presumed guilty until proven innocent, tried in secret, and kept locked up
long after their cases were fully resolved. In the name of “preventing
terrorism,” the government has locked up more than 5,000 foreigners who had
nothing to do with terrorism.

For 2 1/2 years, little has been done to rectify this situation. But today
several senators and representatives plan to introduce the Civil Liberties
Restoration Act of 2004, a bill that seeks to ensure that the next time we
suffer a terrorist attack, we will hold fast to basic principles of
fairness, due process and human rights, especially in our treatment of
foreign nationals.

The act would bar the practice of blanket secret trials, reserving secrecy
for cases in which the government can demonstrate a specific need. It would
require that when the government locks someone up, it must inform him of
the charges within 48 hours, and bring him before a judge within three
days. It would limit preventive detention to situations in which the
government actually has evidence that an individual poses a risk of flight
or a danger to the community. And it would end “special registration,”
which selectively targeted men from Arab and Muslim countries for
fingerprints, photographs and interrogations…


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