What war on terrorism?
The American Civil Liberties Union has taken yet another embarrassing position, this one involving an antiterrorism agreement it made with the federal government and then decided to ignore. As a condition of receiving donations through the deduction program for federal employees, the ACLU signed a statement in January agreeing not to hire people whose names appear on "watch lists" of those suspected of having terrorist ties. The lists are promulgated by the U.S. government, the United Nations, and the European Union. Some 2,000 groups have signed this certification since it became a requirement last October. Not hiring people who might want to blow up our cities would seem to be a modest step if you want the government to help in your fundraising, but inside the ACLU this was a wildly controversial idea. But the organization wanted the money, so it made a decision: Make the agreement, but don't live up to it.
Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU, made this argument: The agreement said the organization could not "knowingly" hire anyone on the terrorism watch lists, but if he didn't look at the lists, how could he know who was on them? "I've printed them out [but] I've never consulted them," Romero said. Nadine Strossen, president of the ACLU board, declared that the "knowingly" gambit was "a very reasonable, certainly clever interpretation."
The Romero excuse will now take its place alongside "It depends on what the meaning of the word is is" and "He was never alone in a hotel with her."
Surely, the lawyers at the ACLU could have figured out that the word knowingly was inserted not as a handy linguistic sinkhole but as a way of protecting groups that may have unwittingly hired a terrorism suspect. But Romero managed to sound both shocked and aggrieved that anyone would expect him to keep his word. Sharing his amazement on National Public Radio, he said, "We wake up this morning, and we open up the newspapers, and we read from the head of that Combined Federal Campaign that they want us to check those lists." That's the danger of waking up in the morning. You are often stunned to learn what you agreed to in January.
ACLU lawyers signed off on the charade of using the word knowingly for evasive purposes, thus calling a good deal of surprised attention to the quality of the legal advice the organization seems to be getting. As board member Wendy Kaminer said, "Any lawyer who tells you that you can sign an agreement with the federal government and then make no effort to comply with it is giving you very bad advice indeed."
Unreal associations. Romero sounded as if he thought his group's duplicity was highly honorable. "No amount of money is worth violating our principles," he said. "We would never terminate or kick off board members or staff members because of their associational rights." Associational rights? Consider the unreality of that term as applied to terrorism. You would think the government is trying to weed out people wearing Ralph Nader buttons.