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It's Not Patriotic to Violate the Constitution

In Praise of Bob Barr

by WALTER BRASCH

If politics makes strange bedfellows, then I’m at least fluffing Bob Barr’s pillows.

Bob Barr?! The far-right congressman who led the impeachment of Bill Clinton? The NRA board of directors member who believes the Second Amendment is the one that guarantees the protection of all the other amendments?

Yes, that Bob Barr.

But, he’s also the Bob Barr who has spoken out against the neo-conservative movement for its super-patriotic suppression of dissent, rising beliefs in a "tax-and-spend" bureaucracy, and unqualified support of the PATRIOT Act.

Six weeks after 9/11, about 85 percent of the House of Representatives, including Bob Barr, and all but one Senator, voted for the USA PATRIOT Act, a cutesy acronym for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act. The Act was developed in secret by the Department of Justice, and pushed upon a shell-shocked Congress, most of whom had less than a day to read any of the 342-page document; most didn’t read any of it. Prior to its passage, a few members of Congress spoke out against the Act, charging that it was developed in haste, and there were Constitutional issues that were swept aside by the Bush Administration and its Department of Justice.

But most of Congress voted for it because they wanted America to be free-and the President was flexing his political muscle following the murders of more than 3,000 Americans. Most Americans, with almost no information to the contrary from talk shows or the news media, believed the PATRIOT Act was necessary and vital to securing our freedom.

But, the results of the Bush Administration’s use of the PATRIOT Act and other measures to track down and capture terrorists have been almost non-existent, and its impact upon Americans’ Constitutional rights has been severe. And so Bob Barr is on a nation-wide speaking tour, sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union ­yes, that civil liberties union-to let Americans know that the PATRIOT Act, while it has many provisions to strengthen America’s defense, most of them in place long before 9/11, also has several odious sections that threaten Constitutional protections. With conviction honed by seven years as a CIA lawyer and analyst, four years as U.S. Attorney, and eight years as a congressman, most of that time spent on the Judiciary Committee, Barr has the credibility to go against the Bush Administration and any of its supporters. "More than any foreign terrorist group," Barr tells his audiences, "provisions of the PATRIOT Act are the greatest threat to America and to American citizens."

What many saw as necessary is now being seen as violating six Constitutional amendments:

* the First Amendment-freedom of religion, speech, press, and assembly, and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

* the Fourth Amendment ­freedom from unreasonable searches (the so-called "right to privacy" amendment.)

* the Fifth Amendment-right against self-incrimination and due process.

* the Sixth Amendment-due process, the right to counsel, a speedy trial, and the right to a fair and public trial by an impartial jury.

* the Eighth Amendment-reasonable bail and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment.

* the Fourteenth Amendment-equal protection guarantee for both citizens and non-citizens.

What the Bush Administration has done to American citizens and non-combatants following 9/11 also violates Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution which guarantees the right to petition the courts to issue a writ of habeas corpus to require the government to produce a prisoner or suspect in order to determine the legality of the detention. Only Congress may order a suspension of the right of the writ, and then only in "Cases of Rebellion or Invasion." Congress did not act to suspended this right; nothing during or subsequent to the 9/11 attack indicated either a rebellion or invasion under terms of the Constitution.

Several federal courts and two major Supreme Court decisions in the past year have dealt blows to the Administration’s persistence in defending the PATRIOT Act. And yet the Bush Administration continues to build its bulwarks, and gather and use its manifest power to look for ways to subvert the Courts, one of the checks against unlimited executive branch power.

As a last-ditch effort to restrain some of the PATRIOT Act before its overwhelming passage, Congress inserted a sunset provision for 16 sections. Unless Congress acts to suspend the sunset provision, those sections, representing some of the most controversial and odious parts of the Act, will expire at the end of this year. President Bush and the Department of Justice are resolute that not only should those sections remain, but are pushing for even more restrictions.
Among the organizations that have been forceful in their attacks upon the PATRIOT Act have been the ACLU, American Bar Association, American Booksellers Association , American Library Association, Association of American Publishers, Bill of Rights Defense Committee ,Center for Constitutional Rights, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Electronic Privacy Information Center , Free Expresiion Policy Project and People for the American Way .

Among conservatives who oppose the PATRIOT Act are former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R. Texas), and Reps. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc., chair of the House Judiciary committee), and C.L. Otter (R-Idaho). Among conservative organizations that oppose the PATRIOT Act are American Conservative Union , Free Congress Foundation, and the Second Amendment Foundation.

Barr has created Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances to energize the public against the PATRIOT Act and the Bush Administration’s misguided belief that it is possible to sacrifice civil liberties to guarantee national security.

Bob Barr isn’t the ogre portrayed by many liberals and moderates, nor is he the saint that the conservatives believe. He is just a man of principle who believes our Constitution must be protected and defended against all enemies-foreign and domestic.

WALTER BRASCH, professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University, is an award-winning syndicated columnist and the author of 15 books, most of them about social issues, the First Amendment, and the media. His forthcoming book is America’s Unpatriotic Acts; The Federal Government’s Violation of Constitutional and Civil Liberties (Peter Lang Publishing.) You may contact Brasch at brasch@bloomu.edu or at www.walterbrasch.com