WASHINGTON – Several hundred people marched in Washington Friday to protest the Bush administration, which they say is attacking worker and civil rights in its war on terror.
A wide variety of individuals came armed with varying agendas, but many attended the march to protest that the war against terror and its offshoot of regime change in Iraq has diverted Washington's attention from domestic issues like health care, corporate corruption and a faltering economy. It has also limited civil rights by denying due process to those accused of being knowledgeable of or involved in terrorist activities, they contend.
The protesters started at Freedom Plaza in downtown Washington and ended at a rally outside the Justice Department.
"We gather before the Department of Justice because we are losing our constitutional and civil rights under the name of fighting terrorism," said Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, at an event billed the "March to Justice."
"We are here to tell John Ashcroft that no matter what he says, we're the true patriots," said Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women.
One of the main concerns is the detention of individuals on immigration violations who are then held and questioned on terror-related topics.
Attorney General John Ashcroft has said that detaining suspects without naming them publicly or formally charging them is key to preventing more terrorist attacks like the Sept. 11 hijackings that killed thousands.
But even the secret court that issues warrants for federal law enforcement to enter the homes of suspects under investigation says that the Justice Department may have gone too far in its guidelines on tracking individuals who may be involved in terror-related plots.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, established under the 1978 Act of the same name, met for the first time in its 24-year history on Monday to hear an appeal by the Justice Department that its warrant-seeking guidelines do not overstep civil rights bounds. The court, which has approved 10,000 warrant requests in its history, said on Wednesday that it will share with Congress the unclassified parts of its rulings when it decides.
Meanwhile, the hundreds of protesters outside the Justice Department Friday called on President Bush to issue a call against going to war with Iraq, saying that such a move could lead to more terrorist attacks on the United States
"We march because the majority are locked out of America's government. Our democratic rights are being ignored. Decisions of war and peace are being made behind closed doors. The reputation of America as a peaceful nation is being squandered with our approval," said Rev. Jesse Jackson, on crutches after foot surgery. "We march today for the United Nations, for international law and treaties, for coalition rather than isolation, for debate rather than demand, to be led and not to be ruled. This land is our land."
Bush made his case before the United Nations on Thursday that the international body must enforce the 16 resolutions it passed since 1990 ordering Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to comply with its rules on allowing weapons inspectors and dismantling Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program.
The president did not detail a course for military action during the speech, but has been considering a doctrine of pre-emption that says the United States may strike a nation that is preparing to strike the United States.
That doctrine, however, has not received much support from Congress, many of whose members prefer the United States get backing from allies before it embarks on a military mission of the kind required to topple Saddam.
While support seemed lacking in previous weeks, U.S. allies and partners have backed down on their reluctance to act on Iraq. Since the president's speech Thursday, Russia, several European allies, Egypt and Jordan have all put pressure on Saddam to re-admit weapons inspectors to avert U.S. military action.
Nonetheless, on Friday, Bush wondered how Congress could insist on international support before acting on a congressional resolution allowing him to act against Iraq.
In mock disbelief, the president said before a meeting with African leaders in New York on Friday that he could not imagine being an elected member of Congress and saying, "Vote for me and, oh, on matters of national security, I think I'm going to want somebody else to act."
Back in Washington, members of Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and NOW, as well as representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union, People for the American Way and the Arab American Institute said they had enough of the Bush administration's aggressive tactics. Some marchers asserted that Bush's war on terrorism is really aimed at "one billion Muslims."
"We have a group of people that have disappeared. We and they do not know why they're in prison. They have no legal counsel. Their families do not know where they are, but this is America and that is wrong," said James Zogby, head of the Arab American Institute.