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Roger Cossack: Legal fallout of terrorism and the war against it

Roger Cossack is co-host of CNN's legal show, "Burden of Proof." As a legal analyst, Cossack has provided commentary for the network on a wide variety of cases from the O.J. Simpson trial to the impeachment and trial of President Bill Clinton. He joined the chat room from Washington D.C.

CNN: Thank you for joining us today, Roger Cossack, and welcome.

ROGER COSSACK: Hello to everyone.

CNN: What will be the effect on civil liberties of anti-terrorism measures such as easier surveillance or search and seizure? Where is the line drawn between security and privacy?

COSSACK: We in America, fortunately, have never suffered through an event like what has just occurred, so in many ways, this is all very new to us. But yet it seems clear that we need increased security, and increased security obviously will create tensions regarding our civil liberties. I am not sure where the line should be drawn. I know that if we turn the country into a police state, then we have lost the essence of America. Yet, we cannot continue with business as usual. Where that line is, I simply don't know.

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CNN: What are the FBI prohibitions on racial profiling, and will they be re-evaluated?

COSSACK: Racial profiling has always been not accepted as a police tactic. From time to time we have seen police departments exposed for engaging in racial profiling. Racial profiling is the singling out for investigation or detention of an individual based solely on their ethnicity. That is not permitted.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What are some wartime laws that may be used during this time?

COSSACK: As of now, there are no wartime laws that can be used during this time. In the past, during World War II, we had rationing of certain substances, gasoline, sugar, meat, rubber. But there are no suggestions that this will occur now.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: As we begin to enter this "war" on terrorism (a war that will extend beyond bin-Laden), who will define what group is a terrorist organization?

COSSACK: I suppose the Justice Department and those who are given the responsibility of investigating those groups will make the definitions.

CNN: President Bush has signed an executive order freezing the assets of suspected terrorists. What is the legal justification for freezing the assets of people or organizations suspected but not yet convicted of terrorism?

COSSACK: The justification is, of course, under situations like this, it is important, as the president has indicated, to do all we can to prevent further attacks. What the president has said is that he is going to freeze the assets of terrorist organizations. Those who believe that their assets shouldn't be frozen will have the opportunity to argue both to the Justice Department and to the courts.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Couldn't the injured parties sue against U.S. held terrorists assets?

COSSACK: There is some precedent for that. Some victims who were held by the Iranians were able to recover against assets that were frozen in this country. So, the answer could be that in the future there will be the availability of funds for people who are injured to recover.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What legal rights will people have in regard to lost wages or positions in regard to the aftermath of the attacks?

COSSACK: That's a good question. I'm not sure that people who lose their jobs or lose wages will have recourse against their companies, or, for that matter, against anyone. The government, I'm sure, will try and make as much aid available to those who suffered hardships because of the attack. We will just have to wait and see what they are.

CNN: Will Congress move to protect airlines from insurance claims by victims and families of victims?

COSSACK: Congress recently passed legislation to assist the airlines by granting them money as well as guaranteed loans. The airline companies will use some of those funds for their liability, and of course their insurance companies will bear the brunt of the liability.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Do the war clauses of insurance contracts with companies and individuals protect them from claims in this instance? Can they make the case this is an "act of war" and not pay claims?

COSSACK: These are all good questions! I think perhaps they could make the claim, but it is my understanding that the insurance companies have concluded that they are not going to make that claim.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: I understand a major trial lawyers association has requested its members refrain from filing for now. Do you anticipate an overwhelming fallout of civil lawsuits from these events?

COSSACK: You know, I simply don't know. I believe that there will be some formula set up so that those who were injured will receive some kind of equitable compensation. I think that if there are thousands and thousands of lawsuits it could damage our civil justice system, which does not have the capability to handle that kind of litigation. So, I believe that there will be some kind of system set up in lieu of intense litigation.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: How secure from fraud is the massive fund-raising that's going on around the US?

COSSACK: Well, I hope that all of these funds are being carefully watched and audited. Any time there are these kinds of events that we've seen, there is obviously the opportunity for people to try to take advantage. But hopefully they're being audited and carefully overseen.

CNN: Do you have any final thoughts to share?

COSSACK: These are very difficult times for everyone. They are scary and unsettling. But we must continue to be the very best we can be, and never lose that very essence of America that makes us special. We have a Constitution that has worked for over 200 years, and I'm sure will continue to guide us in the future.

CNN: Thank you for joining us today.

COSSACK: Goodbye, and thank you.

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