House Bill Would Expand Federal Detention Powers

By Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 2, 2001

House negotiators yesterday agreed to give the government new authority to investigate and detain terrorist suspects, a bipartisan compromise that denied the Bush administration some powers it sought but that was assailed by civil libertarians as a blow to American values.

Under an agreement reached by Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) and the ranking Democrat, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (Mich.), authorities would be able to hold any foreigner suspected of terrorist activity without charges for as long as a week. The anti-terrorism legislation would also expand the government's wiretapping and Internet surveillance powers in terrorism cases.

The 122-page House legislation, dubbed the "Patriot Act," is due to be considered by the committee Wednesday and by the entire House next week.

The House compromise will become a framework for negotiations with the Senate and the administration over an expansion of police powers following the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. David Carle, spokesman for Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), said the Senate and House bills "will largely complement each other."

He said Senate Democrats and Republicans "negotiated through the weekend and are close to an agreement over here."

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said, "The administration has been working very closely with members of the House, as well as with Chairman Leahy and others in the Senate who have just jurisdiction over this."

The Bush administration sought new anti-terrorism legislation in the aftermath of the attacks, saying it was necessary because of what Attorney General John D. Ashcroft described as the "clear and present danger" of further terrorist attacks.

The agreement yesterday came as more than 100 members of Congress traveled to New York to view the devastation at the World Trade Center.

In the thorniest matter faced by negotiators, the government would be allowed to detain any foreigners suspected of terrorist activity for up to seven days without filing charges or giving them an opportunity to ask a judge to release them. That would apply both to legal immigrants and those in the country illegally.

After that time, the government would either need to file criminal charges, begin deportation proceedings or release the suspects. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft had sought detention powers without any particular time limit.

Even after the seven days, Ashcroft would have power to detain foreigners until they are deported as long as he has "reasonable grounds to believe" that they may be involved in terrorism.

Ashcroft had sought broader language, allowing detention if there was "reason to believe" the person was involved in terrorism. Only the attorney general or the Immigration and Naturalization Service commissioner would certify such detentions, which could be reviewed by courts.

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