DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union learned today that Attorney General John Ashcroft will only be addressing law enforcement officials on his new national tour to defend the Patriot Act and the government’s war on terrorism when he comes to Detroit on Thursday.

“It is interesting that Mr. Ashcroft does not seem interested in the public’s concern about the war on terrorism and limits his speaking engagements to a constituency that will be inclined to support him,” said Kary Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director.  “The Justice Department must be worried about the public backlash but is unwilling to subject its policies to open public debate, a quality that has pervaded this entire administration.”

The Patriot Act has come under increasing criticism, not only from the ACLU, but from Congress as well.  Most recently, legislation passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, by a vote of 309 to 118, to repeal one of the more egregious parts of the USA Patriot Act, the “sneak and peek” provision which allows law enforcement to search a home without telling the targeted individual.

On July 30, the ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging Section 215 that vastly expands the power of FBI agents to secretly obtain records and personal belongings of innocent people in the United States, including citizens and permanent residents.  “I would imagine,” said Moss, “that this lawsuit is one of the reasons that he chose Detroit for his national tour.”

Americans are responding to the ever-growing list of examples of civil liberties abuses in the post-9/11 fight against terrorism, including:

  • The June DOJ Inspector General report detailing widespread and systematic abuses of the hundreds of Arab, Muslim and South Asian men detained in the weeks after 9/11.  The report showed that, even though the men were found to have no connection whatsoever to the attacks on September 11, they were held for extreme amounts of time in cases for several months under a quasi-official “no-bond, no-lawyers” policy.  Although the Justice Department’s response has been a pat “we did nothing illegal,” it’s clear that most of the detainees were held on pretext immigration violations like an expired visa or incomplete paperwork.
  • The proposed neighbor-spying-on-neighbor program called Operation TIPS, which would have recruited Americans whose jobs grant them easy access to our homes like cable repair persons and postal workers as government informers, charged with reporting “suspicious activity” to a dedicated tips hotline.
  • The plan to base the number of investigations in any given FBI jurisdiction on demographic criteria, including the number of mosques in the area.
  • The initiative at the DOJ to force local and state police to enforce immigration laws, a plan opposed not only by immigrants’ advocates but also by law enforcement officials themselves.

Several of the cities on the Ashcroft’s itinerary have already joined in a national movement to pass local and regional resolutions calling for increased civil liberties protections, including Detroit and Ann Arbor.  To date, 152 communities across the country have passed these resolutions, including three states, Alaska, Hawaii and Vermont.  Significantly, the list of communities isn’t exclusive to “liberal college towns,” as DOJ officials charge.  Resolution movements are cropping up everywhere from East Coast to West and from the Heartland to the South (note Castle Valley, UT, the state of Alaska).