WASHINGTON -- The war on terrorism abroad has spawned a battle at home over civil liberties.
In the two months since the Sept. 11 suicide hijackings, the Bush administration and Congress have handed an array of new tools to federal investigators, law enforcers and prosecutors.
Wiretap rules have been relaxed. Detentions are being kept secret. FBI checks are slowing the visa applications for young men from Arab and Muslim nations.
The Justice Department is trying to question 5,000 foreign men, mostly from Mideast countries. President Bush has ordered the possible use of military tribunals to try foreign nationals.
Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures, say those backing the steps.
Opponents worry the new law enforcement tools threaten the very liberties in this country that America says it wants for the oppressed overseas.
National security is the pre-eminent concern, said George Terwilliger, an informal adviser to the White House who was deputy attorney general in former President Bush's administration.
''We have to find a way to tell the public we're not taking anything away, we're just using a different method'' of justice, Terwilliger told a gathering of conservative lawyers Thursday.
''Our friends on the civil liberties side of the fence are so worried that we are bypassing the courts entirely -- as if our enemies have any right to be in court.''
Ralph Neas, president of the liberal People for the American Way Foundation, said the nation does need an attorney general who will stand up to terrorists. ''But we also need an attorney general who will stand up for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights,'' he said.
Defending the option of using military tribunals, Attorney General John Ashcroft said the Sept. 11 assaults were acts of war. Foreign terrorists who commit war crimes are not entitled to the protection of the Constitution, Ashcroft said.
David Rivkin, a Washington lawyer who wrote a paper this month for the conservative Heritage Foundation on a terror military court, said even a military trial would give some foreigners more rights than they would have in their own country.
Elisa Massimino, director of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, says such military tribunals would mean fewer rights for the accused and a black eye for America abroad.
''We think it's outrageous and clearly unconstitutional,'' she said. The Muslim world, Massimino says, will view it as ''a kangaroo court done in secret (because) there was not enough evidence to convict them in open court.''
Meantime, civil liberties advocates are scolding the Justice Department for not disclosing the identities or status of more than 1,100 people arrested or detained since Sept. 11. They have filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking the government to disclose information about detainees.
They also are upset that the government is letting investigators eavesdrop on phone calls and read mail between defense lawyers and some federal terrorist suspects as well as others detained but not charged with a crime.
Under new rules, monitoring can take place when Ashcroft concludes there is ''reasonable suspicion'' that the communications are related to future terrorist acts.
The department says that currently, only about 13 of some 158,000 federal prisoners could have their communications monitored under the rules.
In addition to questioning the detainees, the department wants to talk to 5,000 young male foreigners who sought entry into the country since Jan. 1, 2000, on tourist, student and business visas. Those on the list carry passports from countries where members of the terrorist network al-Qaida have traveled through or operate in.
Justice officials say the men, all age 18 to 33 and with nonimmigrant visas, are not suspects but are wanted for voluntary interviews.
They are to be asked whether they have heard anyone advocating terrorism or violence, but will not be questioned about their religion, the department says.
The American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee says the list is based on age, sex and national origin and ''smacks of racial profiling.'' The committee said the interviewing is open to serious abuse if civil liberties are not respected.
The American Civil Liberties Union has issued a pamphlet in seven languages explaining what men on the list should do if they are stopped by police.
The pamphlet says: ''You have the right to remain silent. It's not a crime to refuse to answer questions, but refusing to answer might make the police suspicious about you. You can't be arrested for refusing to identify yourself on the street, but if you are stopped while driving a vehicle, you must show your license and registration.''
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