Peaceful Tomorrows member Adele Welty testified before the New York City Council in opposition to the USA Patriot Act in February, 2004. Here is the text of her remarks.
My name is Adele Welty. I am the mother of Firefighter Timothy Welty, FDNY Squad 288, lost in the line of duty on September 11th at the World Trade Center. I am also a member of Peaceful Tomorrows, a group of 9/11 families who have channeled our grief into action for peace and justice.
Members of Peaceful Tomorrows began protesting this country’s rush to war in October of 2001 as the administration geared up to bomb Afghanistan, before those of us outside the government knew who was responsible for the attacks. Peaceful Tomorrows members then traveled to Afghanistan to express commonality and empathy with the families of civilian victims of the bombings. Subsequently, members also traveled to Iraq, prior to the current onset of war to reach out to civilians and express our opposition to the spread of violence. On March 17th of this year, three members of Peaceful Tomorrows, along with 51 other non-violent protestors, were arrested in Washington, D.C., in front of the Capitol Building, while peacefully demonstrating against the war and for attempting to peaceably tell our Congressional representatives we did not agree with their capitulation to the administration on the Iraq war.
Peaceful Tomorrows thanks those who have expressed their compassion for the loss of our family members in the murderous attack that shook the United States and the world. But their common sense words of comfort stand in sharp contrast to our government’s response to those attacks. We ask you to reflect on the dangerous course of these current policies under Homeland Security and the Patriot Act and look for a new approach to 9/11 that will bring true security and justice to all the people in this land.
The Patriot Act poses a serious threat to the exercise of our Constitutional rights, most particularly our rights to Due Process of Law. Appealing to the fear of terrorism, the Administration has gathered support among many Americans and in the Congress, for sweeping executive powers of detention and surveillance including the investigation of lawful First Amendment activity, if that activity can be tied to intelligence purposes. It undermines our Fourth Amendment right to privacy and expands the ability of the government to use wiretaps and computer surveillance and to look at confidential medical, financial, business and educational records.
Yet while American citizens are under surveillance at the library and in book stores, while our e mails can be monitored and our homes searched secretly and without a warrant based on the evidentiary standard for probably cause, we now know that within hours of the September 11th attacks, the Saudi ambassador arranged for members of the Bin Laden family as well as Saudi families and Saudi students to be given air passage out of this country at a time when no other planes were flying, when traveling by air was forbidden even to those Americans trying to get home to find their family members in the Pentagon or the WTC, or those who had been on the planes used in the attacks. At the same time, hundreds of Muslims were rounded up, interrogated without representation, held without bond and shipped out of the country for minor visa infractions. Many are still being held in Cuba and some U.S. citizens in America who have not been charged with a crime.
Although some sections of the Act were written before 9/11, the Congress passed the Patriot Act just after the attacks without debate over its consequences, during a time of extreme anxiety over our safety and deep emotional stress over our losses. The people of this country were reeling in shock, when the legislation was rammed through the Congress so fast that many of our esteemed representatives voted for it, by their own admission, without reading it much less debating it. It is not only immigrants who have been denied their rights as residents of this country. American citizens are, as we speak, being monitored and detained, denied the right to privacy and unwarranted search and seizure, denied the right to assemble and request redress from the government in those instances where we believe the government’s actions are contrary to our best interests.
This administration has used the tragedy of 9/11 and the deaths of our family members, to push its agenda of regime change abroad and repression here at home. I see my son’s death and the deaths of every precious soul that died that day, used again and again, to scare this country into war, to undermine environmental protections and to concentrate power in the hands of the executive branch in ways that abrogate far too many of our liberty interests.
In recent statements, the Attorney General has said that those who raise the specter of loss of liberty are aiding terrorists. And under the Patriot Act, he has the discretion to decide who among us will be labeled a terrorist, including those of us who are exercising our First Amendment right to speak out, assemble and protest government actions we believe are ill advised. Those so designated have no Fourth Amendment rights to protection from search and seizure. Contrary to the Sixth Amendment, we may be arrested and held without judicial oversight, without benefit of counsel, without a hearing before an impartial judge and jury, without even knowing what charges are being leveled against us and without the opportunity to present evidence or witnesses on our behalf. This is contrary to everything our country stands for, contrary to our way of life that terrorists are trying to destroy.
I have just returned from traveling to Afghanistan to meet with other individuals who are pursuing peaceful means to resolve our conflicts and reach across the chasm of hate to touch people who have lost loved ones in the bombing. Under the Patriot Act, this might be viewed as giving aid to terrorists, using the logic employed by this administration. But my son died trying to save the victims of that horrible attack at the World Trade Center and I want his legacy to be at least one small building block towards saving lives, preserving our freedom and forging peace.
Last Thursday, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that people concerned about losing freedom to government anti-terrorism efforts should speak out. “On important issues, like the balance between liberty and security, if the public doesn’t care, then the security side is going to overweigh the other,” she said. That would change, if people come forward and say we are proud to live in the USA, a land that has been more free, and we want to keep it that way.” And so I’m speaking out. I believe that the Patriot Act is an overreaching attempt to rectify the intelligence failures prior to 9/11. There is no doubt we must find the terrorists and try them in a court of law. But we must continue to be a nation that abides by the rule of law so carefully crafted in our Constitution, refined by the amendments and repeatedly clarified by case law to protect our freedom, the freedom that tens of thousands of American soldiers have died to maintain, a way of life that distinguishes us from those countries whose regimes we wish to change.
The intelligence and law enforcement communities are in a difficult place. If they are overzealous in pursuing their duties, we may accuse them of abuse of power. If they do not stop terrorists, we accuse them of dereliction in their duties. So they must maintain a delicate balance, protecting us from attack while maintaining and upholding our civil liberties. I do not suggest that is an easy task, but it is the one at hand and it is the very job of government. The Patriot Act must be revised to stop our civil liberties from being eroded before it is too late, before our basic freedom is so compromised that we will be hard pressed to win it back.