More than a year after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, students at SIUC and elsewhere are continuing to question the hasty actions of lawmakers and the affect it has had on civil liberties in the United States.

By Gus Bode

The SIUC Public Policy Institute joined forces with the American Civil Liberties Union Tuesday night at the Law School where Paul Simon, director of the institute, spoke about his concerns about the United States repeating mistakes of the past. Other speakers included Ed Yohnka, a representative from the American Civil Liberties Union’s Chicago office, Richard Whitney, Green Party member, and local lawyer Bob Jacobini.

Simon began his remarks by stating that he is not an expert on the issue, but he believes that mistakes have been made concerning our civil liberties after Sept. 11 2001. He said he was concerned about PATRIOT II, which is an acronym for the bill entitled “providing appropriate tools to intercept and obstruct terrorism,” a new proposal federal lawmakers are reviewing.

” I am not a specialist in PATRIOT II,” he said. “All I know is PATRIOT I was a mistake and we are compounding it.”

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Simon said that to give up freedom in the name of security is a mistake and that the United States has gone through this in every crisis it has faced concerning the safety of the country and the protecting of its citizens.

Simon was a child during the time of internment camps for Japanese Americans. During World War II, no one stood up for the Japanese – not even the ACLU, Simon said. But Simon remembers his father saying the actions of the government to imprison almost 2,000 Japanese Americans were wrong. Simon’s father immediately received threats via phone. Simon, a 13-year-old boy at the time, was embarrassed. But looking back, he sees it through a different light.

“That was one of things I’m most proud of him for,” he said.

At a time when the ACLU did not come to defense of the citizens, Simon’s father took a stance that was not only unfavorable, but a necessity for the prosperity of a free society, he said.

“We cannot have one set of laws for a group of people and another set of laws for another group,” Simon said.

The PATRIOT II law and its broad implications affect not only citizens, but immigrants who seek refuge in the United States and those seeking asylum or those who simply visit. Simon said that at a recent meeting with the former prime minister of Canada, the Canadian was two hours late because of questioning by customs agents that held him up at the airport.

Guantanamo Bay was also on Simon’s mind, and he said more than 2,000 prisoners are currently being detained there in the war on terrorism. The government does not have to comply with the rules of the Geneva Convention since the war on terrorism is technically not a war, he said.

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Simon went on to say that he believes that U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft does not have any sensitivity to civil liberties and that he has used the Bill of Rights as an impediment of justice.

Yohnka said he wanted to know if President George W. Bush had read the proposed PATRIOT II act. The act, which was 187 pages and affected over 80 criminal statues, was not only long, but also complicated, he said.

Yohnka found it hard to believe that the president had an efficient amount of time to read over the document, which was introduced the Wednesday after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

The bill was changed in a compromise after two weeks of deliberation by the House judiciary committee, but what they voted on was substituted by the original legislation at a late-night hearing of the rules committee, Yohnka said.

“The members of Congress did not know what they voted for,” Yohnka said.

After the enactment of the bill, more than 1,000 U.S. citizens of Arab and Middle Eastern descent simply disappeared along with immigrants, Yonhka said. He said the act has infringed upon our most basic rights, allowing law enforcement greater access to surveillance as well as allowed the Justice Department greater freedom in prosecuting suspected criminals.

” Loving a country’s ideals are more important than loving the country as an idea,” he said.

Reporter Moustafa Ayad can be reached at [email protected]

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