The American Civil Liberties Union plans to announce today a $2.5 million
media campaign aimed at the aggressive anti-terrorism policies of the Bush administration
and Attorney General John D. Ashcroft -- the largest such effort in its 80-year
Dubbed the "Campaign to Defend the Constitution," it will include rallies,
legislative lobbying and television ads on major networks in New York, Los Angeles,
Washington and other markets, the group said.
The campaign, launched shortly before the Nov. 5 elections, appears to be the
first concerted public relations effort by critics of the administration's anti-terrorism
tactics. The small coalition of groups opposed to the government's anti-terror
tactics has focused primarily on the courts.
"We perceive a real need to reach out to the American public and inspire discussion
and debate on these issues," said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU executive director.
"This campaign is really a response to the statements of John Ashcroft and the
policies of John Ashcroft's Justice Department."
Civil liberties advocates and liberal critics have protested guidelines issued
by Ashcroft after Sept. 11, 2001, that give authorities broad new powers to conduct
surveillance in domestic terror probes. Critics have also objected to the investigations
and detentions of foreign nationals that have occurred in almost complete secrecy.
Ashcroft and President Bush have defended the tactics as lawful and necessary
to help prevent future terrorist attacks. "Our critics seem to think that business
as usual . . . would keep America safe from terrorists," Ashcroft said in recent
remarks. "History instructs us that caution and complacency are not defenses of
While they acknowledge that Ashcroft's policies have not met with major opposition,
ACLU officials say they believe that, more than a year after the attacks on New
York and Washington, the tide of public opinion is turning.
"We have to balance the need for safety with the need to protect our freedoms,"
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