Sept. 11, 2001 archives: Coalition develops to protect civil liberties

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On Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, only a few members of the then-People's Weekly World staff were in the lower Manhattan editorial office when the airplanes hit the Twin Towers at 8:46 a.m. and 9:03 a.m. They worked under extraordinary conditions to meet the Wednesday deadline and produce a newspaper that week. It was a four-page edition that contained a statement from the Communist Party USA condemning the terrorist attacks, and praising the first-responders and their heroism. Despite attempts to locate that issue, it is lost to history, a much lesser victim of the aftermath of 9/11.

 In the following People's Weekly World issues, reporters worked to gather responses to the crisis by the people who rushed to help at New York City's Ground Zero, as well as at the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pa. Many of the people interviewed urged a firm response to the culprits behind the terrorist attacks, but not for the "war on terror" advocated by the Bush administration. PeoplesWorld.org republishes these stories here as part of commemorating the 10th anniversary of that tragic day.

(Sept. 29, 2001) - As a part of the "war on terrorism" Attorney General John Ashcroft has proposed sweeping changes for law enforcement and the intelligence agencies, allowing them more power at the expense of hard-won democratic and Constitutional rights.

Ashcroft's proposed legislation comes after the Senate's hasty passage of the "Combating Terrorism Act" on the evening of Sep. 13 with less than 30 minutes of consideration on the Senate floor.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) responded to this fast tracking of proposals on the floor of the Senate this week. "Do we really show respect to the American people by slapping something together, something that nobody on the floor can explain," he asked, and say we are changing the duties of the attorney general, the director of the CIA, the U.S. attorneys ... we are going to change your rights as Americans, your right to privacy?" Leahy said. "We are going to do it with no hearings, no debate."

More than 150 national organizations and 300 law professors have come together to urge Congress to slow down this legislative process in order to guarantee democratic and civil liberties. The coalition, initiated by the Center for Democracy and Technology, endorsed a 10-point statement entitled, "In Defense of Freedom at a Time of Crisis."

"We need to consider proposals calmly and deliberately with a determination not to erode the liberties and freedoms that are at the core of the American way of life," the statement said. "We should resist the temptation to enact proposals in the mistaken belief that anything that may be called anti-terrorist will necessarily provide greater security."

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenged Ashcroft's proposals in a Sept. 25 statement, saying he "has asked Congress to adopt far-reaching legislation that would include provisions to vastly expand federal law enforcement authority without demonstrating how such laws would make us safer."

Ashcroft is asking Congress to allow governmental powers that many claim are in direct contradiction to basic privacy rights, civil liberties and the Constitution.

These would include increases in electronic surveillance, holding immigrants suspected of terrorism for an indefinite period without charges and seizure of property suspected in terrorist activity. These measures are without judicial oversight.

The coalition statement also reflects the concerns many have about the targeting of immigrants, especially Arab Americans, that might come out of Ashcroft's initiatives.

"We affirm the right of peaceful dissent, protected by the First Amendment, now, when it is most at risk," the coalition statement said. "We must have faith in our democratic system and our Constitution, and in our ability to protect at the same time both the freedom and the security of all Americans."

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, responded to Ashcroft's requests in a Washington Post article. "The keys to success in developing anti-terrorism legislation will be balance and prudence," Conyers wrote.

"History has taught us that we should not use the threat of violence as an excuse to suppress legitimate constitutional rights and liberties."

Conyers warned against a "slow burn" that would do "what the fires of the World Trade Center and Pentagon could not - subversively destroying the foundation of our democracy."

Many groups are urging people to contact their Congressional representatives to insist they slow down and evaluate such legislation with "cooler heads" and ensure democratic rights.

Faxes can be sent to representative through the ACLU's website at www.aclu.org. Sample letters are available on the Electronic Frontier Foundation at www.eff.org

Photo: Numerous signs dotted Manhattan's walls, bus stops and subway entrances in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. (Israel Smith/PW)

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