Anti-terrorism bill gutted in House

March 13, 1996
Web posted at: 10:50 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Jeanne Meserve

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The first anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing is next month, and Congress has yet to enact anti-terrorism legislation urgently proposed by the president. The House Wednesday voted to amend the bill to take out some of the it's toughest and most controversial provisions.

The House of Representatives ripped the guts out of pending anti-terrorism legislation with a single vote Wednesday. Passing 246-171, the amendment deletes provisions which would:

"We have just eviscerated the heart and soul of the anti-terrorist bill," Rep. John Conyers, D Michigan, said from the House floor.

The amendment was backed by an unusual alliance of groups on the right and left who felt the original bill gave the federal government too much power.

"What price are we willing to pay in terms of our individual rights and freedoms? What price are we willing to pay as citizens of this country?" Rep. Melvin Watt, D-North Carolina, said from the floor.

Adoption of the amendment could hardly have come at a more embarrassing time for President Clinton, who was co-hosting an international anti-terrorism summit in Egypt Wednesday.


Attorney General Janet Reno criticized the changes to the bill. "Congress' action keeps too many Americans vulnerable to terrorists and madmen by stripping away provisions that might have helped save law enforcement from killer bullets and help trace explosives."

The anti-terrorism legislation was introduced at the president's urging in the aftermath of the April 19 Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 men, women, and children.

Bit some anti-terrorism experts said that before the legislation was amended, it wouldn't have done much to combat terrorism.

"It is, at best, a Christmas tree. A Christmas tree is designed to do what? It was designed to reassure the American public that the government is doing something," said terrorism expert Larry Johnson.

Last June, the Senate passed anti-terrorism legislation that included many of the provisions deleted by the House. The White House will be lobbying to have those measures re-inserted when congressional conferences produce a final version of the legislation.

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