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President Asks for Expanded Patriot Act
Authority Sought To Fight Terror

Attorney General John D. Ashcroft introduces President Bush, as FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, left, and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge applaud. (Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)

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By Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 11, 2003; Page A01

President Bush, in a speech marking today's anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, called on Congress yesterday to "untie the hands of our law enforcement officials" by expanding the government's ability to probe and detain terrorism suspects.

Hailing the passage of the 2001 USA Patriot Act, which expanded federal police powers, Bush said those changes did not go far enough. He called for empowering authorities in terrorist investigations to issue subpoenas without going to grand juries, to hold suspects without bail and to pursue the death penalty in more cases.

"Under current federal law, there are unreasonable obstacles to investigating and prosecuting terrorism, obstacles that don't exist when law enforcement officials are going after embezzlers or drug traffickers," Bush said at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va. "For the sake of the American people, Congress should change the law and give law enforcement officials the same tools they have to fight terror that they have to fight other crime."

In endorsing an extension of the Patriot Act, Bush plunged into a contentious issue on the eve of the Sept. 11 remembrance, which Bush has proclaimed "Patriots Day." By endorsing an expansion of police powers, the president put himself at odds with a number of Republican lawmakers who have joined Democrats in an effort to scale back part of the original Patriot Act.

Opponents said Bush, in launching the offensive, was seeking to blunt an effort to repeal the increased authority the administration won shortly after the 2001 attacks. "It's clear the administration, now on the defensive, is trying to use offense as a defensive strategy," said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. "The public is saying they've gone too far. Now you have the president and the attorney general asking for additional power."

It was the first time Bush had advocated provisions beyond the Patriot Act, his aides said. In February, a draft of legislation being prepared by the administration proposed sweeping powers, including the ability to revoke citizenship of terrorism suspects, forbid the release of information about terrorism detainees, and set up a DNA database of people associated with terrorist groups. The House Judiciary Chairman, F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), has said he told Attorney General John D. Ashcroft then that it would be "extremely counterproductive" to pursue such "Patriot 2" legislation.

Sensenbrenner was neutral on Bush's proposal yesterday. "The committee will give these proposals careful consideration, as it does any legislation the administration is advocating," said his spokesman, Jeff Lungren.

Rep. John Conyers Jr. (Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, said both parties would reject the ideas. "I am confident we will continue to say no until Ashcroft explains why he has abused the power he already has."

Bush aides said the proposals Bush backed yesterday, parts of which had already been floating about Capitol Hill, were modest. Bush did not back a provision, suggested earlier by Ashcroft, to expand the authority to pursue those offering "material support" to suspected terrorist cells. But White House spokesman Scott McClellan would not rule out the possibility that Bush would back further provisions in piecemeal fashion. "The president is always looking at ways . . . that we can better secure the homeland and make America safer, and that's what this is about," he said.

Ashcroft has been touring the country to build support for the original Patriot Act, and the Justice Department has been fighting an amendment passed this summer by the House that would cut off funding for so-called sneak-and-peek warrants in terrorism cases, one of the Patriot Act's provisions. Congress must consider whether to renew several provisions of the law that expire in 2005.

Justice officials yesterday drew attention to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll finding that only 22 percent of Americans thought the administration had gone "too far" in restricting civil liberties. Still, two-thirds said the government should not take anti-terrorism steps if those steps violate civil liberties.

Specifically, Bush called yesterday for allowing "administrative subpoenas," which would allow prosecutors to demand sensitive documents in terrorism cases without court approval. Bush also sought power to deny bail to suspects without proving that they are dangerous. He also proposed extending the death penalty to acts of sabotage that result in death.

"The House and the Senate have a responsibility to act quickly on these matters," Bush said. "Untie the hands of our law enforcement officials so they can fight and win the war against terror."

Georgetown University law professor David Cole, an opponent of extending the Patriot Act, said the three items "aren't the worst parts of Patriot 2." But he said that the bail provision would allow the government to hold people suspected of "wholly nonviolent activity," and that the use of administrative subpoenas, though common in civil cases, rejects the "basic idea that criminal investigations ought to proceed by virtue of a grand jury."

2003 The Washington Post Company

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