Earlier this morning I had an opportunity to speak with ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero about President Obama's proposed anti-terrorism policies, how they do or don't differ from the Bush administration, and how the ACLU plans to challenge the proposed military commissions and preventive detention policy in court.

What do you think of the the president’s assertion that there are people we have to detain, but can’t convict either in military commissions or federal courts?

I don’t believe that’s the case. I think the proliferation of laws enacted after September 11th give the government a remarkable array of law enforcement tools to use in prosecuting individuals. And if the government after eight years of work, with all of its vast resources [and] agencies working together, has not been able to render evidence that would reliably stand up in court to convict someone, then they did something wrong. And that means individuals who are not convicted must be released. The biggest mistake would be to tinker with the American legal system in an effort to hang on to 20 or 30 individuals that can’t be processed. Guilty people walk every day in American criminal courts because the system breaks down, or prosecutors fail to have the evidence, or law enforcement officials bend the rules in those prosecutions. That doesn’t make us less safe, it makes us stronger as a country when we adhere to legal principle, and a system of rules that are not changed for a preordained outcome.

What about people we’ve captured whom we don’t have hard evidence to convict, but who say they believe in what Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden are doing?

They should walk. Just because you say you’re supportive of al Qaeda, or you want to tear down America, doesn’t mean you’ve shown the criminal intent or the criminal ability to do so. Statements like “I support al Qaeda” or “I support bin Laden” are protected speech under the First Amendment. If we start locking people up because of what they say and not because of what they’ve done, then we’re in a very different democracy.

Read the rest here.

-- A. Serwer

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