Amidst criticism by his own Inspector General about abuses of civil liberties in post September 11 detentions of immigrants, Attorney General Ashcroft not only refused to apologize, he said he would do the same thing again.
And to those who have been believing media reports that Patriot II is dead (and not just the media, my congressional representatives all sent me letters saying the proposed law was a deflated trial balloon), take note. Ashcroft says he needs more, not less, power.
As you would expect, his defiance won over the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee before whom he spoke. The Democrats were muted in their criticism, if they had any at all.
According to a report in The New York Times, Ashcroft said:
"The Patriot Act gave us the tools we needed to integrate our law enforcement and intelligence capabilities to win the war on terror," Mr. Ashcroft said. "It allowed the Department of Justice to use the same tools from the criminal process, the same tools on terrorists that we use to combat mobsters or drug dealers. We use these tools to gather intelligence and to prevent terrorists from unleashing more death and destruction within our country. We use these tools to connect the dots. We use these tools to save innocent lives."
Ashcroft reiterated that his department’s policy–"for which we do not apologize"–is to hold illegal aliens without access to bail or bond until they can be cleared of terrorist activities, and then deported.
Of the Patriot Act, he said, it does not go far enough. The law is the first edition of the Bush revision of the Bill of Rights (see my article on this page, "The Other War"). It has been condemned by more than 100 municipalities and counties in the country, some of whose law enforcement are refusing to aid the government in its surveillance of citizens. But Ashcroft says the law does not go far enough and has "several weaknesses" that require tweaking.
Patriot II may be dead, but don’t be fooled. Its police-state provisions will be enacted, piecemeal into legislation that you–and the Congress–won’t be aware of.
By the way, note how Congressional passage of laws without reading them has become a way of doing business on the Hill. Many admitted they never read Patriot I and a host of them now are scrambling to undo what they did in the tax cut bill. Seems they did not read that either. Don’t they have a Cliff notes version of legislation?
ELAINE CASSEL practices law in Virginia and the District of Columbia, teaches law and psychology, and writes Civil Liberties Watch under the auspices of The City Pages. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org