Mr. THURMOND. Mr. President, I served as a conferee representing the Senate, and I am pleased that the House and Senate conferees have resolved the differences between our respective bills to combat terrorism. We must send a clear message to those who engage in this heinous conduct that the American people will not tolerate cowardly acts of terrorism, in any fashion--whether their source is international or domestic.
It is important that the Congress work closely with Federal law enforcement to provide the necessary tools and authority to prevent terrorism. Yet, I am mindful that an appropriate balance between individual rights guaranteed in the Constitution and the needs of law enforcement must be achieved as we meet our responsibility. The American people appropriately look to their government to maintain a peaceable society but do not want law enforcement to stray into the private lives of law-abiding citizens. The balance is to provide reasonable authority to law enforcement to investigate and prevent terrorism while respecting the rights of the American people to form groups, gather and engage in dialog even when that dialog involves harsh antigovernment rhetoric.
Mr. President, it is my belief that this conference report will enhance law enforcement capabilities to combat terrorism while respecting our cherished rights under the Constitution. This legislation includes provisions to increase penalties for conspiracies involving explosives and the unauthorized use of explosives, enhance our ability to remove and exclude alien terrorists from U.S. territory, provide private rights of action against foreign countries who commit terrorist acts, prohibit assistance to countries that aid terrorist states financially or with military equipment, and enhance prohibitions on the use of weapons of mass destruction. Also, there are a number of other measures designed to combat terrorism which were included and detailed earlier by the able chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Hatch.
Clearly, one of the most important sections included in the conference report is language designed to curb the abuse of habeas corpus appeals. In fact, we heard from families of the Oklahoma bombing victims who demand that habeas reform be included to make this a truly successful bill.
Mr. President, for years, as both chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I have worked for reform of habeas corpus appeals. The habeas appellate process has become little more than a stalling tactic used by death row inmates to avoid punishment for their crimes.
Unfortunately, the present system of habeas corpus review has become a game of endless litigation where the question is no longer whether the defendant is innocent or guilty of murder, but whether a prisoner can persuade a Federal court to find some kind of technical error to unduly delay justice. As it stands, the habeas process provides the death row inmate with almost inexhaustible opportunities to avoid justice. This is simply wrong.
In my home State of South Carolina, there are over 60 prisoners on death row. One has been on death row for 18 years. Two others were sentenced to death in 1980 for a murder they committed in 1977. These two men, half brothers, went into a service station in Red Bank, SC, and murdered Ralph Studemeyer as his son helplessly watched. One man stabbed Mr. Studemeyer and the other shot him. It was a brutal murder and although convicted and sentenced to death these two murderers have been on death row for 15 years and continue to sit awaiting execution.
The habeas reform provisions in this legislation will significantly reduce the delays in carrying out executions without unduly limiting the right of access to the Federal courts. This language will effectively reduce the filing of repetitive habeas corpus petitions which delays justice and undermines the deterrent value of the death penalty. Under our proposal, if adopted, death sentences will be carried out in most cases within 2 years of final State court action. This is in stark contrast to death sentences carried out in 1993 which, on average, were carried out over 9 years after the most recent sentencing date.
Mr. President, the current habeas system has robbed the State criminal justice system of any sense of finality and prolongs the pain and agony faced by the families of murder victims. Our habeas reform proposal is badly needed to restore public confidence and ensure accountability to America's criminal justice system.
We have a significant opportunity here to fight terrorism and provide certainty of punishment in our criminal justice system. The preamble to the U.S. Constitution clearly spells out the highest ideals of our system of government--one of which is to `insure domestic tranquility.' The American people have a right to be safe in their homes and communities.
I am confident that this antiterrorism legislation will provide valuable assistance to our Nation's law enforcement in their dedicated efforts to uphold law and order.
I yield the floor.
Mr. NICKLES addressed the Chair.
The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Grams). The Senator from Oklahoma.
Mr. NICKLES. Mr. President, first, I would like to thank Senator Dole for setting aside the immigration bill, the illegal immigration bill, temporarily so we can pass this terrorism conference report.
I might mention to my colleagues this is a conference report and is not really amendable. It does not mean we do not have parliamentary procedures and it does not mean people cannot delay or procrastinate or mean we cannot say we can send it back to the conference with specific amendments. They have the right to do so. But I am going to urge my colleagues not to do so. If we do so, we are not going to finish this bill. I would like to finish this bill this week.
I would really like to compliment my colleagues, Senator Hatch, and also Senator Biden, as well as our colleague in the House, Chairman Hyde, for their work in the last couple of weeks in melding the two bills together.
This is a compromise bill. I do not make any bones about it. It is probably not perfect. But it is a good bill, and it needs to pass, and it needs to pass this week. If we recommit this bill, we are not going to get it done this week. So I urge my colleagues, it might be tempting and it may be politically appealing, for whatever reason, to recommit this bill and to score some points or run against the NRA or whatever, but I urge them to set that aside.
Let us pass this bill. This is a positive bill. It is a good bill. It is a bill that has very, very strong support and a lot of emotional connections in my State. I think everybody is well aware of the fact that this Friday is the first anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing that took 168 innocent lives of men, women, and children. The families of those victims have urged us to pass this bill. They have admitted maybe this bill is not perfect, but they think it is a good bill. I have met with several of the victims and families of the victims. They said, please pass this bill.
The No. 1 provision that they want in this bill is the so-called habeas corpus reform. They want an end to these endless appeals of people who have been convicted of atrocious crimes and murders. An end to abusing the judicial system, abusing taxpayers, filing frivolous appeals, endless, endless appeals.
In Oklahoma actually several were wearing buttons that had a 17 with a line through it. They were referring to Roger Dale Stafford. In 1978, he murdered nine individuals in my State. First he murdered the Lorenz family--he was a sergeant. Sergeant Lorenz saw a stopped car with the hood up. So he pulled over and stopped to help Stafford. Lorenz was with his wife and his child. Roger Dale Stafford murdered him, murdered his wife, and went back into the car and murdered their son; and then shortly after that murdered six people. Most of them were kids in a Sirloin Stockade restaurant. He herded them into a freezer or refrigerator and murdered them in cold blood.
That was in 1978. His execution did not happen until last year, 1995. He was on death row for 17 years. The families of the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing have said we need habeas corpus reform. This is a Federal crime. They will be tried under Federal statute. The death penalty does apply. If convicted, they would like to have the sentence carried out swiftly, not 20 years from now. They feel very, very strongly about it.
I want to thank my colleagues for working over the last couple of weeks when the Senate was in recess. We do not usually do that. It does not happen very often around here. Usually we have a break or recess for whatever reason and staffs and Senators take off and not a lot of work is done. But this time was different.
I also again want to thank Senator Dole and also Speaker Gingrich because I personally appealed to both and said I would really like to get this bill up and passed through both Houses of Congress by this anniversary date.
I would like to go back to Oklahoma on Friday and tell the families that, yes, we have passed this antiterrorism bill.
It has a lot of provisions, a lot of good provisions. I realize in the legislative process we make some compromises. It has been pointed out maybe there are a couple of provisions that should not be in or have been left out. My colleague from Delaware mentioned expanded wiretaps. A lot of people in my State have real second thoughts about that. I do not know. I supported it when it passed the Senate. It may be a good provision. Maybe I was wrong. I am not sure.
I am not an expert in that area, but I know that habeas corpus reform, or death penalty reform, needs to pass. That is the foremost thing on the minds of the victims of the Oklahoma tragedy. If we send this back to committee, we will not be able to pass this bill this week. I will be more than disappointed if that happens.
We have a couple of other provisions that are very important to the people of Oklahoma. We put in a provision, and I want to thank my colleagues, both Senator Hatch and Senator Biden for supporting this provision, that will allow and actually provide for closed circuit TV viewing of the trial proceedings in the Oklahoma bombing case. Unfortunately, the trial was moved to Denver. In Denver they have a courtroom, I believe, that holds 130 people. The judge said we will have an annex for audio, so in total, maybe 260 people including press would have the opportunity to attend or hear the trial. Frankly, that is not enough. That is not near enough. Not to mention the fact that the individuals and families would have to travel over 500 miles, and be away from the rest of their family. It would be an enormous inconvenience. We have raised some money to assist them. I am sure some families would like to personally attend the trial and we will try and help them financially, as well.
I thank the Attorney General for helping in that manner. She wrote me a letter saying they were contributing the travel fund.
I asked the Attorney General's assistance so that those who could not travel to Denver could view the trial through closed circuit TV coverage. We think that a decision to permit this by the court is discretionary and it should happen. Unfortunately, she has declined to help us with the closed circuit TV provision. This bill says that the court must provide closed circuit coverage of the trial for victims and their families. It will be closely monitored. The court will have complete control over the coverage. This is not for public viewing but for the families, so they can view the trial without leaving their home, without leaving the rest of their families, maybe without having to take several months off from their jobs or their workplaces. This is going to be a very traumatic time for them and it would be much better for them as individuals to be able to view this at home and still be able to be with their family members and friends instead of dislocating them for several months, sending them to Denver, and only a very small percentage of them being able to even be present in court, and be more than frustrated by being so close yet so far away because they would not have access to the proceedings in the trial.
I am appreciative of this one provision, and again I thank my colleague from Utah and my colleague from Delaware for inserting this provision. There is a comparable provision in the House bill. This is most important to the families of the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing.
Finally, I want to comment on one other provision. This bill provides for mandatory restitution for victims of Federal violent crimes, property crimes, and product tampering crimes. This is a measure that we have spoken about on the floor of the Senate countless times. This is a measure that has passed the Senate three or four times. This is a measure that has bipartisan support. Senator Biden, Senator Hatch, myself, and others have worked to put this in. We have passed it in various crime control packages in the past. Unfortunately, when we have had a conference it has not remained in the conference package. This is a most important provision where we do give respect, treatment and assistance for the victims of crime--mandatory restitution for victims. We should pay more attention to victims instead of to the criminals, as we have done in the past. I am most appreciative. This is a very important provision.
I think our colleagues have put together a good bill. It may not be perfect. I have heard my colleague from Utah say, well, as far as some of the other provisions, maybe the provision that was alluded to by our colleague from California dealing with Internet and directions for explosives, that may be a good provision. I may well support it. It does not have to be in this package. I hope that if there are other good provisions not included in this bill, we can garner overwhelming support in the Senate, we can take them up separately and pass them this year. I would like to think that we have a window of opportunity of a couple of months where we can pass substantive legislation without playing politics. I hope we do not play politics with this bill.
I keep hearing statements about the NRA and others, there are a lot of people that are concerned about expanding wiretap authority and they do not have anything to do with the NRA. Maybe that is a good provision. I am not debating that. Maybe it should be debated, but debate it separately. If we put some of those provisions in, there will be problems in the House and we will not pass this bill this week. To me that would be a real shame. That would be something that we should not do. This is an important bill. This is a good bill, a bill that should pass, that should pass tonight. I would hope that my colleagues would join together, resist the temptation to send this back to conference, knowing it would delay it. Hopefully, they would join us in saying, `Let's pass this bill,' and if we want to consider separate measures dealing with taggants or anything else that was originally in the House bill or originally in the Senate bill, or maybe originally in the President's bill, we can consider that independently.
This is a conference report. Most of our colleagues are aware of the fact we do not usually amend conference reports, and if we do, we could put unnecessary delay on this legislation which would be a serious mistake. On behalf of the victims of the tragedy that happened on April 19, 1995, in Oklahoma City, on behalf of the families and the countless number of people who were impacted directly, I urge my colleagues, let Members pass this bill, pass this bill tonight, no later than tomorrow, get it through the House, as well, so we can let them know that we have listened to them, we have heard them, and we have passed a good antiterrorism bill with real habeas corpus reform, with real death penalty reform, with a provision allowing them to have closed circuit TV viewing of the trial. I think they will be most appreciative. I know they will be most appreciative.
I yield the floor.