Getting Tougher with Terrorism


"Terrorism has shifted from hostage-taking to indiscriminate slaughter of men, women and children." Truer words were never spoken, and it would be a foolish dereliction of duty for the Clinton administration and Congress to refuse to strengthen anti-terrorists laws and procedures.

The Democratic president and Republican congressional leaders say they are ready and willing to crack down on terrorism -- and now! Some critics say this is an over-reaction to the horror of Oklahoma City. American public opinion has been enflamed by what happened there, but even when all the emotionalism has been filtered out of that response there is a still a good case to be made for getting tougher with terrorism.

This was so before Oklahoma City. The opening quotation is from Adm. William Studeman, acting director of the Central Intelligence Agency, testifying on April 6 to the House Judiciary Committee in behalf of the Clinton administration's Counter-terrorism Act of 1995. That bill is aimed exclusively at international terrorists. Almost nothing in it deals directly with the domestic terrorism seen at Oklahoma City, but that does not mean the bill is not needed. Internationalism terrorism is still a threat. Perhaps more so, having been given this example of how vulnerable U.S. targets are.

New defenses against home-grown terror are also needed. The administration is planning a second bill. Civil libertarians were dismayed at the original act for, among other things, authorizing star chamber courts for deportation hearings and strict limits on fund raising and contributing to political organizations associated with terrorist groups. They are going to be even more agitated. The new bill is expected to authorize the FBI to monitor and invade the privacy of citizens exercising what are basically constitutional rights of free speech and free association.

There is a potential for giving government too much power of this sort, but we believe carefully drawn legislation can achieve the goals of both law enforcers and the American Civil Liberties Union. While the ACLU doesn't seem to think so, it is significant that the House sponsor of the administration's old counter-terrorism bill and, probably, its next one, is Rep. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who gets high marks from the ACLU on its annual legislative score card.

The chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., doesn't get good grades from the ACLU and other liberal groups, but he and his staff have been working on what now appears will be an omnibus anti-terrorism bill since January. He has been going slowly and asking some of the same questions that the ACLU has asked. The likelihood is that if he and Representative Schumer and the Clinton White House really work together and avoid politicking, a law that satisfies both sides will get on the books.

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