By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
Most of these restrictions on liberty were not part of the letter of the Patriot Act; they were shaped by means of rules and regulations adopted in agencies and departments of government with little notice to the public. That's because the Patriot Act granted sweeping new powers to agencies like the Department of Justice, the FBI, and BCIS to go their own way in prosecuting the war on terror.
Will the Clinton/Bush expansion of federal powers help much in protecting the country from terrorism? That is an imponderable, since we can't know what might have happened by now, or what might happen going forward, in their absence. But the arrests hyped by Ashcroft so far don't suggest that his new powers are yielding much. One of the most notorious cases involved Jose Padilla, an American-born Muslim arrested for allegedly plotting to build a dirty bomb. Padilla is still being held without charges, and many believe it's because the government has no real case against him. (The file on Padilla is secret, obviously, but some news accounts have suggested his sole crime was attempting to download "dirty bomb" construction plans from the Internet.) Several people charged with terrorist-related acts have pled guilty to some charges, such as visiting an al Qaeda training camp (as defendants in Buffalo have recently done), or to lesser non-terrorist-related offenses (money laundering instead of financing terrorist activities), in order to avoid the risk of conviction and longer sentences. The Justice Department seeks grand jury indictments of the "kitchen-sink" variety--throw in everything remotely chargeable, and then declare victory when the defendant pleads to one or two charges.
What we do know about these laws is that they allow government agents to be more aggressive and, when they wish, more abusive. Most of the people indicted in Buffalo and Portland have been charged with being terrorist sympathizers because they were in the presence of people themselves labeled as terrorist sympathizers (visiting their homes, for instance) or because they had contributed to a non-profit organization that the government has decreed to have a connection to terrorism somewhere in the world. Attorney Lynne Stewart was indicted for the "crime" of zealously representing a convicted terrorist she was court-appointed to defend.
The proposed Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003
There is no Patriot Act II. That said, it doesn't mean that we aren't constantly thinking and discussing how to make things better, safer.... So if there are some leaks... it's about what we've been thinking. --Attorney General John Ashcroft, March 4, 2003
On February 7, 2003, the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity obtained a leaked draft of what is being called Patriot Act II. John Ashcroft immediately went on the defensive, taking pains to call it a mere trial balloon--something to get the debate moving. The version posted on the center's site at www.cpi.org belies such talk; it indicates that the draft was delivered to Vice President Cheney and House Speaker Dennis Hastert.
Against a backdrop of perpetual war, it's hard to imagine that Congress will put up much of a fuss over Patriot II. Who could vote against better domestic security? Here are some of the more unsettling proposals: