In a letter to Congressional leaders released today, Human Rights Watch criticized the anti-terrorism bills that have emerged from the House and Senate for failing to safeguard the rights of non-citizens. Congressional leaders have bypassed an official conference to reconcile the two bills, with the final version now being negotiated out of public view.

Both bills grant unprecedented broad powers to the Attorney General to certify and then detain non-citizens suspected of terrorist activities or of threatening national security.

"Personal liberty should not be a casualty of the campaign against terrorism," said Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch. "We believe Congress can develop anti-terrorism measures that protect the nation without sacrificing important rights."

According to Human Rights Watch, the breadth and vagueness of the criteria for the certification and detention of non-citizens raise the possibility of arbitrary or abusive application. If the detainees are not criminally charged or deported from the country, they would remain in administrative detention until the Attorney General determines they are no longer risks to national security. While judicial review of the detention would be permitted, neither bill ensures meaningful, prompt or periodic reviews to ensure the detention is warranted. Human Rights Watch urges Congress to incorporate safeguards for the rights of detainees in the anti-terrorist legislation, including:

  • Precise guidelines for determining when detention is necessary;
  • Prompt, periodic reviews of the initial and continued detention;
  • A prohibition against indefinite detention and safeguards against it.

"Non-citizens no less than citizens have a right to freedom from arbitrary or indefinite administrative detention, " said Roth. "As the U.S. defends itself from terrorism it must also strengthen its defense of the freedoms that are the hallmark of the country."