By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
These may be the tools of the banana republic and the kangaroo court, but they dovetail neatly with fine-print provisions of the PATRIOT Act. Although the potential of putting massive amounts of information about the private lives of Americans into government cyberfiles grabbed headlines, the Act sanctions far more draconian police practices. Notably, it has made “black bag” operations legal. The government may break and enter into anyone’s home without the occupant ever being told the entry has occurred. To do so, federal attorneys need simply claim that the intelligence is for a “significant purpose” in a criminal investigation. Never mind probable cause, the strict standard in criminal cases. Now it‘s send in the plumbers. Who decides to suspend the 4th Amendment? The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a secret court of seven judges meeting in a sealed room in the bottom of the Department of Justice. According to Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, of the 13,000 authorizations requested of that court since it was created 20 years ago, only one has been turned down.
Consider the bill’s definition of “terrorism.” “Acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws . . . (and) appear intended to intimidate or coerce the civilian population, to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping” are crimes punishable by twenty years in a federal penitentiary. “This turns civil disobedience, a respected manner of dissent, into a most serious crime of domestic terrorism,” says Ratner. “It equates protest to the people behind the bombing of the World Trade Center.”
Finally, apart from what the attorney general has arrogated to himself by decree, the PATRIOT Act lets Ashcroft detain immigrants indefinitely, without charges. A person may be held incommunicado for seven days. Then, if the attorney general deems that person a suspected terrorist or a threat to national security, the confinement may continue until the state decides otherwise. Six-hundred-forty-one foreigners are being held by the Bush administration, mostly on minor immigration charges. Emboldened by the PATRIOT Act, the administration now refuses to disclose any details on 548 of the people, other than nationalities and charges. And, government officials have even suggested that drugs and pressure tactics such as those employed by the Israeli interrogators -- in other words, torture -- ought to be used during interrogation.
“There is no doubt that if we lived in a police state, it would be much easier to catch terrorists,” Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin), the Senate‘s lone dissenter, said in opposition to the USA-PATRIOT Act. “But that probably would not be a country in which we would want to live. Preserving our freedom is one of the main reasons that we are now engaged in this new war on terrorism. We will lose that war without firing a shot if we sacrifice the liberties of the American people.”