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The Associated Press

ACLU's National Executive Speaks On Responses To Terrorism

February 24, 2002
Copyright © 2002
The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

BILLINGS (AP) - Federal action since the Sept. 11 terrorism has left the United States unable to balance the safety of citizens with protection of their freedoms, the national executive for the American Civil Liberties Union said.

Americans need to question their government in times of crisis, especially if they think it is doing the wrong thing, Anthony Romero said Saturday at the annual meeting of the ACLU of Montana.

In addition to destroying lives and property, terrorism intimidates people and encourages them to take actions not in their best interests, he said.

"If we allow terrorism to erode our freedoms, the terrorists have won," said Romero, who was appointed national executive director of the ACLU in April and began work Sept. 4.

He criticized recent legislation that includes security measures intended to make finding and stopping terrorists easier for the government.

"We must not allow the war on terrorism to become an excuse for the government to do what ever the hell it wants," Romero said. The legislation's overly broad definition of "terrorist" could be used to shut down legitimate dissent and protest, he said.

Romero reminded his Montana audience that the ACLU has a more than 80-year commitment to protecting "every right of every person," and said the organization uses three main avenues for upholding that mission. They are litigation, legislative work and communication.

Litigation is a "big stick we have to execute in order to create the political will to do things right," Romero said. The legislative effort is the "hard-core political work" that forestalls the need for litigation, he said.

Communication occurs through ACLU offices maintained in every state, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. The organization functions with members, volunteers and a staff of 600.

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