Beware! Patriot Act I and II
by Keiler Hook
April 17, 2003
We have conquered Iraq. Aren’t we big and bad, massacring a diminished, impoverished society just because we could. Every excuse the Bush administration used to attack Iraq was a lie! A lie that was propagated and unchallenged by the corporate-owned press, whose effective propaganda assault persuaded the American population to be on the opposite side of world opinion. Iraq was never a threat to the United States; our troops have not found any weapons of mass destruction. Susan Wright, a disarmament expert at the University of Michigan, said last week: "This could be the first war in history that was justified largely by an illusion." The comparative effortlessness of the US military victory bears out the fact that Hussein was no threat outside Iraq’s borders.
Another lie that was allowed to not be questioned was that Saddam had gassed his own people. In January of this year, Stephen Pelletiere, Central Intelligence Agency’s senior political analyst on Iraq during the Iran-Iraq has revealed it may have been Iraq that gassed the Kurds. The Kurds were not a target but they got caught in the middle of the confrontation between the two countries. According to a report written by the United States Defense Intelligence immediately after the battle, it was Iranian gas that killed the Kurds. (New York Times, January 31, 2003).
The American people were completely taken in by these lies. Before last year, most Americans did not know Iraq from Iran. Now the polls show that the American people believe that Iraq had some responsibility for 9/11 and that most of the hijackers were Iraqi! The misinformed majority allowed the government to frighten them with threats of Iraqi power and influence that would threaten the USA. Saddam has been likened to Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin. And the American public fell for it hook, line and sinker. Fear of the enemy has paralyzed this country since 9/11. “We are in a nearly no-win situation because President Bush demagogically shifted the fears brought on by 9/11 to justify the invasion of a nation that represented scant military threat to the U.S.” says columnist Robert Scheer in the Los Angeles Times.
Fear is allowing the government to get away with more than just lying about a crummy little war on the other side of the world; fear is enabling this administration to set into law draconian measures that would strip citizens of nearly every civil right. What has been written repeatedly about Hitler and his rise was that Germany was gripped by fear and the German people ultimately gave up their civil rights and the nation plunged the whole world into war. Sound familiar? Daniel David Shaw in his introduction to his book The USA Patriot Act and Homeland Security Act: What They Really Mean, asks this question: “Is it possible that those in government, with the aid of a slavishly fetid news media, have used this tragedy to fuel a climate of fear and paranoia to justify expanded police powers and reduce individual freedoms and personal liberty?”
The antiterrorism legislation that arose out of 9/11 is called the USA Patriot Act. The USA PATRIOT ACT (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) is a major assault on our constitutional protections.
It infringes on the Fourth Amendment by allowing police to search our homes and offices when we are not present. The USA PATRIOT Act also debilitates the Sixth Amendment by abridging our right to effective legal counsel. In federal prisons government agents are now permitted to eavesdrop on previously privileged conversations between a lawyer and client. The client does not even have to be charged with a crime. All that is required is that the Attorney General says there is reasonable suspicion that the discussions between the lawyer and client might "facilitate acts of terrorism." No judicial review is required. The PATRIOT Act increases the government's powers to arbitrarily look at emails that we send to friends and professional or business associates. It allows the government to freeze assets in bank accounts and to monitor bank customers' financial transactions. It also permits the FBI to share gathered information with the CIA. This has been outlawed for decades. The USA Patriot Act defined the new crime of "domestic terrorism" broadly, to encompass "any action that endangers human life that is a violation of any Federal or State law.” Isn’t any action that endangers human life that is a violation of any Federal or State law a crime? Is this not redundancy? And Overreach?
I can understand why this legislation was passed so quickly in October 2001 in the midst of the turmoil and fear from the aftermath of 9/11. Now that some time has passed it is imperative that congress take another look at this legislation. This legislation was only passed with the proviso that there would be an expiration date on some of the more egregious surveillance sections. The Republicans are trying to lift the expiration date and make the legislation permanent. The Republicans, by insisting on prompt action, have opened the door for the Democrats to investigate this bill more thoroughly. The Democrats want to explore whether this bill has aided the war on terror and what civil rights have been affected by this bill. Robert Higgs, a senior fellow in political economy at the Independent Institute writes: "Although it [the Patriot Act] has had the result of setting aside many established Fourth Amendment protections, it has not played an important role in the government apprehension of terrorists or prevention of terrorists from operating in this country.” More than 60 towns, cities and counties around the country have passed resolutions criticizing the act, some going so far as to instruct municipal employees — including police — not to assist federal agents in investigations that they believe violate the Constitution.
But folks, we have a lot more to be worried about than the above. John Ashcroft and his crew are brewing up another antiterrorism bill which has been drafted as “The Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003”, also called Patriot II, a copy of which can be found at the Center for Public Integrity website. This “draft” that was leaked from within the federal government in February 2003 is clearly a polished product that has been worked on for months, secretly. It is called a “draft” but it certainly contains all the information one needs to see exactly what the Justice Department is after: more civil control. Does the Justice Department realize that legislation is supposed to originate with Congress? There has been no consulting with Congress.
A fact which Dr. David Cole, of Georgetown University, found disturbing: that there has been no consultations with Congress on the draft legislation. “It raises a lot of serious concerns and is troubling as a generic matter that they have gotten this far along and tell people that there is nothing in the works. What that suggests is that they’re waiting for a propitious time to introduce it, which might well be when a war is begun. At that time there would be less opportunity for discussion and they’ll have a much stronger hand in saying that they need these right away.” Today the news is about our government threatening Syria, could this be the propitious time to introduce this legislation?
Timothy Lynch, director of the Project on Criminal Justice at the libertarian Cato Institute believed that although the draft bill has little chance of passage if introduced on Capitol Hill in its current form, he fears such a measure will be promoted by the administration in the event of another major terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
"I think if these provisions are debated in a calm, reflective atmosphere most of them will not be enacted into law," he said. "But I am afraid that if we are in the immediate aftermath of an attack, Congress will not give these provisions the scrutiny they deserve, and they might rush into it like they did with the Patriot Act."
The original USA Patriot Act has sunset provisions, under which the Act will expire if not renewed in five years. Patriot II, however, does not have such provisions. It would go so far as to remove these important checks from the original Act.
Patriot Act II allows the government to:
* Conduct domestic wiretapping without court order for 15 days following a congressional authorization of use of force or an attack on the United States.
* Secretly detain citizens. (puts in jeopardy the right to walk the streets without being “disappeared” by the government).
* Deport any alien, including green-card holders, who are convicted of drug possession or an aggravated felony.
* Access a citizen's credit reports without a subpoena.
* Abolish federal court "consent decrees" that limit police surveillance of non-criminal organizations and public events.
* Criminalize the use of encryption software in the commission or planning of a felony.
* Apply strict gag rules to those subpoenaed by a grand jury.
* Collect DNA from suspected terrorists and indeed from any individual whose DNA might assist terror investigations.
* Extend authorization periods for secret wiretaps and Internet surveillance.
* Ease restrictions on the use of secret evidence.
Summarizing, Patriot II puts in danger the First Amendment right to speak freely, statutory and common law rights to privacy, the right to go to court to challenge government illegality, and the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures.
The atmosphere seems ripe for this legislation, we’re still at war, the Republicans are in charge and it’s apparent that the Justice Department wants these new additions to be passed. However, one Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa made this statement about the “draft”:
“I’m going to be very cautious about that legislation. Quite frankly, I’m not going to be for dramatic expansion of it, even knowing the environment of terrorism I know is now a threat to Americans. I think we need to move very cautiously. And I think we’ve had about enough expansion as we should have for a while.”
Leading Democrat Patrick Leahy says, "The contents of this proposal should be carefully reviewed, and the public must be allowed to freely engage in any debate about the merits of any new government powers the administration may seek."
Hopefully, this new draft is not a done deal. But we cannot rely on hope, as comforting as that could be. Americans have to be made aware that this new Patriot II Act has within its scope the apparatus to reorganize the entire federal government and much of the State governments under the control of the Justice Department and the Homeland Security Agency. The Democrats, in the past, have so disappointed their constituents by avoiding their duty to act as a separate body from this administration. They have forgotten the system of the “balance of powers” that has directed our government since the beginning. They have not challenged the Bush administration on any major point. It is up to us, the people of this country, to demand that Congress be aware of this constitutional threat to our government and our way of life. Patriot I should be dismantled, it is wrecking our society much more than any terrorist could have prayed for; and the monster hovering in the Justice Department nicknamed Patriot II should be put to rest with its predecessor. Now is the time to call your representative and demand accountability regarding these two Acts. The administration is counting on the people to be docile and ill-informed, let us disappoint them by becoming pro-active and knowledgeable about our future; our future rests on the peoples’ actions, how about that for democracy? Call your rep, he or she needs your input.
Keiler Hook "is a woman, a mother, an activist, and a journalist" from the Deep South in the United States, who writes pieces mostly concerning the "War on Terror" and the "War on Drugs"; both subjects capturing her passion and her talent. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
* To learn more about the Patriot II Act, visit this DV News Service compilation of material: http://www.dissidentvoice.org/Articles/DVNS_PatriotActII.htm
* American Civil Liberties Union action page to Stop The New Patriot Act:
* Voice for Change.org action page: http://www.voice4change.org/news/