New Patriot Act II law would take away more liberties
CHICAGO (FinalCall.com)–America is descending further down the slippery slope toward a totalitarian state, civil libertarians and rights activists are shouting, especially since the revelation of the enhanced Patriot Act legislation began circulating on Capitol Hill.
The amendments to the original Patriot Act, which passed in 2001, encroach even more on the rights of citizens, activists warn.
Drafted by Attorney General John Ashcroft, the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003 has not been officially released by the Justice Department, although rumors of its development have circulated around the Capitol for the last few months under the name “Patriot Act II.”
“The people must stop this reckless president,” declared Congressman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), who spoke out against the legislation and war on Iraq during a speech at the historic Bethel AME church here. The “Assembly to Reclaim Our Rights” forum was hosted by the Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights.
The Bush administration is preparing legislation to give him broader, more sweeping new powers to increase domestic spying, surveillance and law enforcement privileges, and simultaneously decrease judicial powers and public access to information, he warned.
Signed into law by President Bush on Oct. 26, 2001, the original USA Patriot Act gave law enforcement officials broader authority to conduct electronic surveillance and wiretaps, and gave the president authority, when the nation is under attack, to confiscate any property within U.S. jurisdiction of anyone believed to be engaging in such attacks. The measure also tightened the president’s ability to survey and freeze any bank account.
“Patriot Act One is draconian, and was just a test to see our level of tolerance,” said Baltimore-based Tyrone Powers, a former FBI counterintelligence agent, speaking to The Final Call via telephone. “They are emboldened by our quietness. Nowhere in the history of America has the government sought to take a person’s citizenship, which this legislation allows.”
Patriot Act II continues with the efforts of the Bush Administration, since Sept. 11, 2001, to expand powers and responsibilities for law enforcement bodies. Many of the powers sought mirror the illegal actions taken by the U.S. government under the Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) of the civil rights movement.
New powers the Bush administration seeks include:
– Section 201, “Prohibition of Disclosure of Terrorism Investigation Detainee Information”: The provision would weaken the Freedom of Information Act and allow the government to withhold information concerning suspected terrorists in custody;
– Section 301-306, “Terrorist Identification Database”: These sections authorize creation of a DNA database on “suspected terrorists,” expanded to include association with suspected terrorist groups, and non citizens suspected of certain crimes or of having supported any group designated as terrorist;
– Section 312, “Appropriate Remedies with Respect to Law Enforcement Surveillance Activities”: This provision would terminate all state law enforcement consent decrees designed to prevent police spying abuses because the Bush administration believes the decrees would impede current terrorism investigations; and
– Section 501, “Expatriation of Terrorists”: This provision would establish that an American citizen engaging in the lawful activities of a group designated as a “terrorist organization” by the Attorney General could be presumptive grounds for expatriation.
Shrouded in secrecy
“If there is going to be a sequel to the USA Patriot Act, the process of writing it should not be shrouded in secrecy, steeped in unilateralism or tinged with partisanship,” a discontented ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), said in a statement released to The Final Call.
“The early signals from the Administration about its intentions for this bill are ominous, and I hope Justice Department officials will change the way they are handling this,” he said.
Sen. Leahy said that in the initial weeks after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the Administration and the Congress forged a “constructive partnership” in the writing of the USA Patriot Act anti-terrorism package, even though most lawmakers admit they never even read the legislation.
In similar fashion, the Patriot Act II legislation is circulating, perhaps to be sprung on Congress at a moment of urgency–like during a time of war–so that it, too, can be passed with very little scrutiny.
Sen. Leahy, one of many members of the Congress expressing discontent over Pres. Bush’s efforts to bypass the checks and balances of government, believes that whether in times of war or peace, the need to find the proper balance between government power and the rights of its citizenry is a delicate and extremely important process.
Further, critics say the contents of this proposal should be reviewed carefully and the American public must be afforded the opportunity to fully and freely engage in any debate about its merits.
Regarding the existence of Patriot Act II, Justice Dept. spokesperson Barbara Comstock said department staff has not presented any final proposals to either the Attorney General or the White House.
“It would be premature to speculate on any future decisions, particularly ideas or proposals that are still being discussed at staff levels,” she said.
Attorney Sampak Garg, one of Rep. Conyers’ legislative aides, said terms with vague definitions such as “enemy combatant,” which has been used to jail many alleged Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists from Afghanistan, is dangerous because American citizens can be classified as such and even if they can prove they are not terrorists, they have no recourse.
“It is possible that any dissent (coming from citizens or elected officials) could be classified as terrorist. It makes no distinctions,” he said.
Calling them “Ashcroft’s follies”, Rep. Conyers also expressed concern about recent moves by the attorney general that apparently targets innocent Muslims.
“Ashcroft sent letters to federal district attorney offices wanting more death sentences without knowledge of the cases,” Rep. Conyers said.
“And he sent letters to FBI districts wanting to know the number of mosques in each city and that he will correlate that number with the number of prosecutions for terrorism. He also plans to send more resources to ‘high mosque’ areas,” he said.
Ronald Hampton, president of the National Black Police Association, raises an alarm for American citizens who may not be paying attention to the focus of the new legislation.
They supposedly designed all these responses to terrorism and those who would participate in it, and most of those people who would be involved in those things would be coming from outside the U.S., he said.
“But, when you read the Patriot Act and the new stuff that’s coming out, all that involves U.S. citizens and those who will attempt to be citizens,” he said.
“The FBI and CIA used to act in secret, now they do it openly and they don’t fear the people. It’s incredible that they would even put something like this on paper,” added Dr. Powers, referring to Patriots Act II.
“You know roaches are bad when they are willing to come out in the light. The roaches and rodents have come out in the day because they have no fear of us stomping them out. There should be protests and demonstrations throughout the country,” he said.
Disregard for Constitution
Rep. Conyers expressed concern about the president’s promise to go into Iraq in complete disregard of the Constitution of the United States, which states that the power to declare war rests exclusively in the hands of Congress.
Rep. Conyers, along with five House members, military personnel and parents of service members, filed a law suit in federal court Feb. 13 to prevent the president from launching an invasion of Iraq without an explicit declaration of war from Congress.
He and the other plaintiffs said the October 2002 congressional resolution backing military action against Iraq did not specifically declare war and unlawfully ceded the decision to President Bush.
Plaintiffs are appealing the lawsuit that was recently thrown out by a federal judge.
The other members of Congress named as plaintiffs are Dennis Kucinich, (D-Ohio); Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.); Jim McDermott (D-Wash.); Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.); and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas).
Another blow to the administration came when John Brady Kiesling, a member of Pres. Bush’s Foreign Service Corps and Political Counselor to the American embassy in Greece, resigned because of discomfort with the President’s policies.
“This Administration has chosen to make terrorism a domestic political tool, enlisting a scattered and largely defeated Al Qaeda as its bureaucratic ally,” he said.
“We spread disproportionate terror and confusion in the public mind, arbitrarily linking the unrelated problems of terrorism and Iraq. The result, and perhaps the motive, is to justify a vast misallocation of shrinking public wealth to the military and to weaken the safeguards that protect American citizens from the heavy hand of government.”(A copy of the Patriot Act II can be obtained via the world wide web at www.publicintegrity.org.)