The war on terrorism should not be used by the Bush administration as an “an
excuse to ignore constitutional liberties behind closed doors,” Sen. Robert C.
Byrd, D-W.Va., told the Senate in a lengthy speech Tuesday afternoon.
During debate on a bill to create a Department of Homeland Security, Byrd said
Bush-backed proposals are a threat to civil liberties and workers’ rights.
“Congress is the leveler when it comes to precipitous actions. The Senate in
particular is the place intended by the Framers for cooling off,” Byrd said. “A
calm oasis where reason and cooler heads prevail against the heat of passion has
always been found on the floor of the United States Senate.
“I find myself in a position that I had not intended,” he said. “I have often
felt, in recent days, as if this 84-year-old man is the only thing standing between
a White House hungry for power and the safeguards in the Constitution. That is
not bragging, that is lamenting.”
Byrd said he knows he is not the only senator worried about the bill. “But
I have not heard enough voices speaking out on these important matters. ... I
can’t fight this battle alone.”
Byrd is specifically worried that the new Homeland Security director may be
exempt from congressional approval.
“How terribly ironic it would be if it was our response to the treachery of
al-Qaida which dealt our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms the most devastating
blow of them all,” Byrd said.
“Terrorism is a worldwide force, and our ability to prevent it at home or contain
it abroad is limited, at best. ...
“Handing over our precious liberties and hard-won principles on such topics
as worker rights, openness in government, the right to privacy and civil liberties,
will not change that unfortunate and troubling reality,” Byrd said.
Byrd mentioned the Bush administration’s “strong penchant for secrecy, and
its refusal to be confined by the law and the Constitution in its attempts to
shield its actions from public scrutiny.”
The Justice Department has already conducted hundreds of secret deportation
hearings across the country.
“Like so many other actions that this administration has taken on behalf of
our safety, we have no way of knowing whether what they have done was the right
thing to do,” Byrd said. “And we have no way of knowing whether the actions they
took may have threatened our own liberties.”
Byrd expressed concern about legislation the House has already passed to give
the president “authority to waive worker protections for federal employees [and]
to exempt the new Department [of Homeland Security] from public disclosure laws.”
In closing, Byrd said: “We must insist on assurances that in granting more
powers to this and future administrations to investigate terrorism, we are not
also granting powers to jeopardize the rights, privacy or privileges of law-abiding
“We have a responsibility to ourselves and to future generations to ensure
that, in our zeal to build a fortress against terrorism, we are not dismantling
the fortress of our Constitution, our liberties and our American way of life.”
© Copyright 2002 The Charleston Gazette