“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 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 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 now several senators and representatives have introduced the Civil Liberties Restoration Act of 2004, which 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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