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US Attorney General Promises to Safeguard Civil Liberties

Alberto Gonzales

The top U.S. law enforcement official says the Bush administration will continue to protect Americans from terrorism and preserve civil liberties at the same time.  U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who marked his first 100 days in office with an appearance at the National Press Club in Washington, spoke to reporters in Washington Friday. 

Mr. Gonzales said the United States has made progress in the war on terrorism.  But he also said he was concerned that some Americans may have become complacent since the attacks on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania in 2001.

"Are we safer as a result of these successes?  Yes. But are we completely safe?  No," he said.

The attorney general says it is essential that Congress renew the broad powers of the government to investigate suspected terrorists under a law known as the Patriot Act.

The Bush administration is pressing Congress to renew several portions of the Patriot Act that are due to expire by the end of this year despite criticism from civil liberties activists who contend the law is too intrusive.

Attorney General Gonzales says he is open to compromise with members of Congress. "What I will not accept are changes to our laws that would make America less safe against terrorism and crime,” he added.  “We can and we will protect our civil liberties and our citizens from terrorism.  The two are not mutually exclusive."

A broad coalition of liberal and conservative groups opposed to the Patriot Act want to make it harder for the government to obtain private information about citizens in the course of terrorism investigations.

Bob Barr is a former Republican Congressman from Georgia who is now working with liberal and conservative activists to change the Patriot Act.

"That is to ensure that the current imbalance in the fight against acts of terrorism in which civil liberties and the right to privacy of law abiding American citizens have suffered needlessly is in fact restored," said Mr. Barr.

Civil liberties advocates expressed alarm this week over a proposal in Congress to expand the government's power to demand business records as part of its terrorism investigations without approval from a judge.

Attorney General Gonzales says the government merely wants the same legal tools to go after terrorists that it now uses in cases of drug trafficking and health care fraud.

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