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The Troublesome Bill of Rights

Last week, President Bush jumped on the Patriot Act revision bandwagon. Speaking at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, Bush said that “we” needed new laws that would make it easier for police to compel evidence from us against our will and use it against us to prosecute and imprison us.

According to The Washington Post, Rep. Tom Feeney, Republican from Baby Bush’s empire in Florida, has already introduced the legislation on Bush’s (and, doubtless, Ashcroft’s) wish list.

The legislation would allow an end run around the 4th and 5th Amendments to the Constitution of the U.S. The 4th Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures; the 5th Amendment protects us against testifying against ourselves.

The 4th Amendment would be amended by allowing more “administrative” subpoenas of evidence and witnesses, by the FBI, DOJ, and whomever else “investigates” national security or terror-related crimes. It is so much trouble, you know, to have to get a magistrate or a grand jury to issue subpoenas. Better that FBI field agents can order librarians (as they do, now) directly to turn over your check-out records and order the librarian not to tell you about it–on pain of being charged with a crime themselves. The new law would expand the situations in which FBI field agents and Department of Justice prosecutors could make such demands on doctors, merchants, other keepers of business records.

Even more troubling is the proposal that you and I could be compelled to talk with federal investigators. Currently, we can be compelled to testify before a grand jury upon a properly issued subpoena, but that’s a far cry from submitting ourselves to law enforcement interrogation or else being jailed for refusal to do so.

Under Mr. Feeney’s bill, you could no longer refuse to talk to investigators and there would be no grand jury protections if the Justice Department merely alleged that “a danger to national security” exists. Further, the person who talks to investigators could be the subject of a permanent gag order, against ever talking–to anyone–about what was discussed with the feds. This is entirely at odds with traditional grand jury procedure, in which witnesses are specifically exempted from the secrecy that surrounds proceedings.

According the the Post, the Department of Justice tried to distance itself from Feeney’s bill, until sharp eyes noted that the provisions were a part of the much-maligned Patriot II proposed legislation that was leaked earlier this year. There, too, Justice denied that it was anything more than a wish list, and was not intended to be a serious proposal.

That lie has led to the perception that the draconian proposals of that law were of the table. They are not–nor will they be. They will be tucked here and there into larger bills, even spending measures, and quietly taken up with little fanfare. And you can bet that every Democrat running for the presidential nomination will sign onto it, for fear of being labeled against “national security” and “pro-terrorism.”

Those of you who have been deluded into thinking that there is a presumption of innocence in this country, take note. For practical purposes, I have long believed that it does not exist in the courtroom. Under the proposed legislation, it will no longer exist in the law either.

ELAINE CASSEL practices law in Virginia and the District of Columbia, teachers law and psychology, and follows the Bush regime’s dismantling of the Constitution at Civil Liberties Watch. This article originally appeared on FindLaw’s Writ. She can be reached at: ecassel1@cox.net

 

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