February 24, 2003
Last modified February 24, 2003 - 12:21 am
Patriot Act II jeopardizes freedomSince Jan. 9, the Bush administration has been sitting on draft legislation it intends to shove through Congress when that elected body is in a state of panic -- for example, when we are at war with Iraq or suspect a massive terrorist attack is imminent.
That's precisely the view taken by House Judiciary Committee Ranking
Member John Conyers, D-Mich, in a letter he wrote to the Department of
Nearly unchecked powers
The proposed Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003 is not merely
radical, it grants the U.S. attorney general nearly unchecked powers in a
wide arena of law enforcement. DSEA greatly expands the powers the USA
Patriot Act granted the Department of Justice and federal law enforcement
Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Vice President Dick
Cheney, as president of the Senate, each received a copy of DSEA on Jan.
10, according to a control sheet issued by the Department of Justice
Legislative Affairs Office. No other member of Congress received a copy.
For months, Justice Department officials were telling Sen. Patrick
Leahy, D-Vt., ranking Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee,
that the department was not drafting another anti-terrorism bill. Now,
here it is full blown, Patriot Act II.
The DSEA isn't a working paper. It's a complete proposal for
legislation. One cannot escape the ramifications. The thoroughness of DSEA
is meant to discourage congressional changes, deletions or amendments. In
total, it contains another wish list for federal law enforcement
authority, while minimizing any checks on that authority.
Elements of a leaked copy of the confidential document were made public
on the PBS television program "NOW with Bill Moyers" on Feb. 7. The
120-page document contains 33 pages of analysis; the other 87 pages
contains the proposed legislation.
The first 11 sections of DSEA would broaden the authority of the
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the authority of the secret FISA
court the act created.
Sections 128 and 206 impose gag orders on any person who receives a
subpoena in regard to a terrorist investigation. That person could only
inform his or her attorney of the subpoena.
Section 201 would empower the Justice Department to conduct secret
arrests when investigating international terrorism. Those arrests would
remain secret until criminal charges are filed. According to prominent
constitutional attorney David Cole of Georgetown University Law Center,
"Never before in our history have we permitted secret arrests. This
expressly authorizes the practice of secret arrests."
And, of course, a person under secret arrest might never have charges
filed against him. In which case the person is either quietly let out of
prison or languishes there.
Section 204 allows the government to make secret presentations of
evidence to the court which neither the defendant or his attorney can see.
Sections 301 to 306 of DSEA authorize the collection of DNA records and
DNA samples for the creation of an identification database that would
include DNA records of those "suspected" of terrorism, or who belong to
certain classes of aliens.
Section 501 would allow the federal government to strip the citizenship
of an American citizen, if that person provided "material support" to a
group the United States has designated as a terrorist organization. If you
gave money to an overseas religious charity -- later classified as a front
organization for a terrorist group -- you could lose your citizenship.
Section 503 gives the U.S. attorney general unchecked authority to
deport any person, including lawful, permanent residents -- whenever he
determines their presence is inconsistent with our national security.
This could happen even if the noncitizen were law abiding and had not
violated any immigration laws.
National security can be interpreted to mean, according to Cole,
"national defense, foreign policy, or economic interests." Basically, the
U.S. attorney general can conclude that the presence of a lawful permanent
resident is "inconsistent with our economic interests and he can deport
the person," Cole said. The deportation would not be reviewable by the
DSEA would eliminate the necessity of obtaining a grand jury subpoena
or court order to access someone's credit report. It would allow the
government to get a pen register on any American citizen without regard to
suspected criminal or terrorist activity. Pen registers are surveillance
devices that capture the phone numbers dialed on outgoing telephone calls.
Other provisions of the bill eliminate judicial oversight over various
surveillance actions. After Congress authorizes the use of force, the U.S.
attorney general can conduct wiretaps for 15 days without court oversight
and without going to the FISA court -- according to Section 103.
DSEA goes far beyond the Patriot Act in its attack on the basic
liberties supposedly guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. It attacks the
fundamental framework of our democracy by removing the system of checks
and balances that hold it together and make it work.
And the DSEA institutionalizes secret arrests -- that, in itself, is an
anathema to freedom and democracy.
Charles Levendosky, editorial page editor of the Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright © The Billings Gazette, a division of Lee Enterprises.
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