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Senators to Hear Ashcroft Explain Anti-Terror Laws

November 26, 2001|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers critical of the Justice Department's anti-terrorism campaign will hear directly from Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft at a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee next week.

"The attorney general owes the country, certainly owes the Congress, an explanation," the committee chairman, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), said Sunday.

Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker confirmed Ashcroft's scheduled appearance before the panel in December.

Some lawmakers have said that recent actions to fight terrorism go too far in usurping civil liberties. For example, 600 to 700 people remain incarcerated after being rounded up since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

President Bush's recent order allowing secret military tribunals to try noncitizens has drawn fire from both Democrats and Republicans, as has Justice Department approval of eavesdropping on conversations between defense lawyers and some terrorist suspects.

"We stand for a great deal in this country," Leahy said. "When we're talking about setting aside our criminal justice system for something like this, we end up looking more and more like some of the things that we are fighting against."

Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), appearing with Leahy on NBC's "Meet the Press," noted that the Supreme Court upheld military tribunals during World War II.

"These are extraordinary times and I believe you have to have extraordinary measures," he said. "We are in a war. . . . There has to be justice, and this will be justice."

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said fighting terrorism and protecting civil liberties need to be balanced.

"We are all very concerned about the spread of terrorism," Daschle said on "Fox News Sunday." "But we have to ask ourselves what the balance is, how do you do that and ensure that we don't trample on the constitutional rights that we have fought to protect for over 200 years."

Added Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.): "We want to not only appear to be just but be just in the administration of justice, whether it applies to Americans or otherwise."

Discussing military tribunals, Durbin said on CNN's "Late Edition" that the Bush administration and Ashcroft need to "spell out in more detail what the lines are, how they'll draw them and define them."

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