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Ashcroft pushes stronger antiterrorism bill

Attorney General John Ashcroft
Attorney General John Ashcroft  

By Manuel Perez-Rivas
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Attorney General John Ashcroft continued to push Congress on Thursday to strengthen a legislative package of antiterrorism measures proposed in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Versions of the legislative package, which grants greater power to law enforcement and intelligence officials, are moving through both houses in Congress, and lawmakers have been negotiating with the White House to tone down some of the more controversial aspects of the package.

The legislation, originally proposed by the White House, drew complaints from civil libertarians and some lawmakers -- including both Democrats and Republicans -- concerned that it tread too strongly on constitutional rights.

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Some of the more controversial measures involved expanding the government's ability to detain immigrants on suspicions of terrorist involvement, and on granting investigators greater surveillance powers.

Ashcroft, speaking to reporters, said he was "pleased and heartened" that progress is being made on the legislation, but he pushed for stronger language in some areas.

He noted that the bill passed by the House judiciary committee would place a sunset on some intelligence gathering measures, causing them to expire at the end of 2003.

"Well, no one can guarantee that terrorism will sunset in two years," said Ashcroft, who pointed out that President Bush has cautioned the nation that the fight against terrorism will be a long one.

The House version of the bill also would give the administration less leeway than it is seeking to present evidence in terrorist cases.

"Our laws governing terrorism should reflect the priority that the American people give to the fight against terrorism, and the American people expect us to give this fight the highest priority," Aschroft said, adding that the administration would propose no change in law that damages constitutional rights.



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