GOP turns up heat on terror package

By MARK BENJAMIN   |   Oct. 2, 2001 at 5:25 PM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 2 (UPI) -- Republicans Tuesday warned that to prevent future terrorist attacks Congress must quickly agree to a bill handing the government powerful new tools to spy on and detain suspected terrorists.

But some lawmakers, particularly Democrats, voiced concern that haste might vitiate the effort and seriously degrade civil liberties.

Attorney General John Ashcroft traveled to Capitol Hill Tuesday and warned Congress that failure to act soon could encumber the government's ability to counter looming terrorist plots.

"Talk won't prevent terrorism," Ashcroft said. "Tools will help prevent terrorism."

He said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., must pick up the pace as the Democrats' chief negotiator in the Senate and make a deal now on a broad anti-terrorism bill.

"I met with Sen. Leahy this morning again and expressed to him my deep concern over the pace at which we are making progress," Ashcroft warned. "I think it is time for us to be productive in behalf of the American people, so that our protection of the American people can, in fact, be effective."

Lawmakers and administration officials huddled in a series of meetings Tuesday to continue work on a bill that will give the government new power to tap phones and use immigration law to detain terrorist suspects.

Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Sen. Orrin Hatch, D-Utah, said the risk of future attacks should compel the Senate to consider a bill, "tonight." He said Democrats should simply move the bill to the floor and hammer it out there. "Let's battle it out, and whoever wins, wins," Hatch said.

Leahy said Tuesday the two sides were close to a deal, but that the White House Tuesday had backed away from an agreement to allow government prosecutors to share information on issues before a grand jury with the CIA and FBI -- so long as terrorism was at stake and a court were later notified of the move.

Leahy said he had discussed that issue with Vice President Dick Cheney in search of a compromise.

Democrats vowed to work diligently and move the package as quickly as possible. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said he thought the Senate could consider the legislation next week.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and Ranking Member John Conyers, D-Mich., Monday agreed to a similar bill moving through the House. That bill gives the government powerful tools -- restricted until now for espionage cases -- to quickly tap phones in multiple jurisdictions with drastically reduced judicial oversight.

But out of concern over civil liberties, those power sunset in just two years unless Congress chooses to extend them.

The bill also allows the government to use immigration law to detain and deport suspected terrorists, but out of similar concern, Sensenbrenner and Conyers put in a provision requiring the government to file charges on a suspect within seven days. Ashcroft had sought the power to detain suspects indefinitely.

But Republicans continued to turn up the heat to get a bill done now.

"The sooner the better," Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said. "Otherwise we are not going to win this war."

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