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
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
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
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
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
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
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