Both Democrats and Republicans checked their hearing in disbelief after Attorney General John Ashcroft's alarming testimony to Congress that he wanted to enlist hundreds of thousands of people - including truckers, letter carriers, train conductors, ship captains, utility employees and others - to snoop and report on persons they suspect may be involved with terrorism. All he wants these people to do is phone the FBI - nothing else.
Certainly, all Americans are concerned about terrorism, but history has shown that even in our country, such "people-spying" is disastrous.
In a recent letter to Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., whose committee is handling the Homeland Security bill, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, reported that during World War I the Department of Justice enrolled 250,000 citizens in at least 600 cities and towns to report suspicious conduct and to even make arrests.
The American Protective League as it was called, spied on thousands of workers and unions in thousands of plants. After the war, the respected New York Bar Association issued a report on the APL stating, " No other one cause contributed to the oppression of innocent men as the systematic and indiscriminate agitation (by the APL) against what was claimed to be espionage by Germans."
The "TIPS" program, as it is called by the Bush administration, will not - in the end - lead to victory, but to the kind of government that conducts a psychological terrorist network on Americans. All Americans must condemn with ferocity this clear challenge to our civil liberties.
Even Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and other conservative Republicans, have expressed deep concern over Mr. Ashcroft's passion for disregarding civil liberties. I also express such concerns, and readers of The Chronicle should too.
Lowell Greenbaum, Augusta
(Editor's note: The writer is the chairperson for the Richmond County Democratic Party.)