The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Mandy Simon, (202) 675-2312;

Counterterrorism Efforts Must Not Infringe On First Amendment Rights, ACLU Testifies


American Civil Liberties Union testified today before the House
Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and
Terrorism Risk Assessment. The hearing, "Violent Extremism: How Are
People Moved from Constitutionally-Protected Thought to Acts of
Terrorism," was meant to consider where counterterrorism efforts
intended to prevent violence and radicalization cross the line into
punishing radical, but protected, thought.

"It is crucial to understand the importance of zealously safeguarding
our constitutionally-protected freedoms while we strive to understand
how individuals become violent extremists," said Michael Macleod-Ball,
Acting Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "While we
recognize that our government has an obligation to protect us from
terrorism, Congress must tread carefully when attempting to examine
people's thoughts or classify their beliefs as inside or outside the
mainstream. We must avoid infringing on fundamental rights that are
essential to the functioning of a healthy democracy."

Asking whether extremist ideology is a harbinger of violence presumes
that a connection exists between the belief system and the commission
of violence. Recent empirical studies of terrorism downplay such a
causal connection. To blindly assume without evidence that those of a
particular faith or ideology are a threat because of the actions of a
few betrays American values and wastes security resources.

In its testimony, the ACLU also pointed to past examples of government
overreaction in its testimony, recalling Senator Joseph McCarthy's
Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and the House Un-American
Activities Committee, which ruined the careers of many loyal Americans
based purely on their associations, and the failed FBI domestic
counter-intelligence program (COINTELPRO).

COINTELPRO quickly evolved from a legitimate effort to protect the
national security from hostile foreign threats into an effort to
suppress domestic political dissent through an array of illegal
activities. The "Church Committee" investigated the program and found
that an "unexpressed major premise of... COINTELPRO is that the Bureau
has a role in maintaining the existing social order, and that its
efforts should be aimed toward combating those who threaten that
order." Time and again we have found that instead of focusing on
violations of law, investigations targeting people based on their
beliefs, political activities and associations are doomed to fail.

"Sacrificing our civil liberties in the pursuit of security is unwise,
unnecessary, and according to several recent studies, counterproductive
to preventing extremist violence," said Macleod-Ball. "Fear should not
drive our government policies. To truly be safe and free, we must
vigorously protect our Constitution and values."

To read the ACLU's testimony, go to:

The American Civil Liberties Union was founded in 1920 and is our nation's guardian of liberty. The ACLU works in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.

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