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Patriot Act abuses plain

Long Beach Press-Telegram | June 22 2004

Reader Peter Alvarez says John Ashcroft "is probably the most qualified attorney general this country has ever had."

He said this in a letter to our editor Thursday, and challenged me to provide "examples of abuses involving the Patriot Act."

While Ashcroft does not share the Justice Department's case files with me, I still must wonder, Mr. Alvarez, what planet you have been living on.

Where were you these past three years while, amid considerable publicity, our government was imprisoning people without making charges against them, holding them without trials, and not allowing them to talk to attorneys?

Where were you when Brandon Mayfield, the Oregon lawyer suspected of involvement in bombings in Spain, was held for two weeks without being charged until freed on evidence supplied by the Spanish government?

Where were you when, only six weeks after 9/11, the Congress made it legal to search your prescriptions, e-mails, bank and library records not because you are a suspicious person, but because someone who sent you an e-mail may be deemed a suspicious person?

Those latter developments, of course, came out of the Patriot Act, a document your letter said, is "long overdue."

Conservative view

In looking at the Patriot Act, let me yield to John Whitehead. He is an ultra conservative and constitutional lawyer who heads the Rutherford Institute and who represented Paula Jones in her sexual harassment suit against President Bill Clinton.

Unlike you, Mr. Alvarez, Whitehead has real concerns about the direction the United States is taking in general and about the Patriot Act in particular.

"The Bush administration appears to be fighting two wars," he says. "The first is the so-called war on terrorism. The second is a more ominous war against the privacy and freedom of the average American."

He calls the Patriot Act a "140-page monstrosity' and says its quick passage a month and a half after 9/11 suggests it "must have been sitting on a bureaucratic shelf somewhere just waiting to be enacted."

A new era

Whitehead makes these points:

- The Act "changes the standards for search warrants." They no longer have to be served in person. Federal agents are now free to snoop around your house. "You will probably never know they were there."

- No judge or court order is required for the government to obtain a subpoena to search your records held by a library, bookstore, church, bank, or whatever.

- "Clearly, the FBI an agency that in recent years has been under constant investigation for alleged corruptness is not only spying on the bad guys. This is citizen surveillance, pure and simple."

It is not the intent of this column to promote John Kerry for president. But I do wonder about the ramifications of a second term when George W. Bush no longer has to curry political favor with the electorate.

And when John Ashcroft, wielding one terror alert after another, can further intimidate the America people.

And when people like you, Mr. Alvarez, will continue to readily surrender your rights and freedoms in the misguided notion that doing so will create a stronger, better nation.

Get a grip, sir.