Book Excerpt: The War on Civil Liberties

Online Exclusive: The new book by CP contributor Elaine Cassel details the U.S. government's war on terror and on its own citizens

The following is an excerpt from The War on Civil Liberties: How Bush and Ashcroft Have Dismantled the Bill of Rights by lawyer, activist, and City Pages contributor Elaine Cassel. The excerpt gives a break-down of specific actions made legal under the Patriot Act.


What the USA Patriot Act Does (1)

Chicago Review Press

The USA Patriot Act gives law enforcement officials broader authority to conduct electronic surveillance and wiretaps and gives the president the authority, when the nation is under actual attack by a foreign entity, to confiscate any property within U.S. jurisdiction of anyone believed to be engaging in such attacks. The measure also tightens oversight of financial activities to prevent money laundering and to diminish bank secrecy, all in an effort to disrupt terrorist finances. The act, almost 400 pages in length, amends dozens of existing laws. It also stretches the Bill of Rights in several respects. It particularly allows incursions into rights protected by the first and fourth amendments (2). Some of the more controversial civil rights incursions had been on the executive branch's "wish list" for many years (3). September 11 provided just the impetus needed to change some rules of criminal procedure for all crimes--not just crimes of terror. Some of the more drastic incursions on civil liberties resulting from the Patriot Act are:

  • It is a crime for anyone in this country to contribute money or other material support to the activities of a group on the State Department's terrorist watch list. Organizations are so designated on the basis of secret evidence, and their inclusion on the list cannot be challenged in court.

  • The FBI can obtain warrants that "follow" a person across state lines and to any telephone or computer to which they can be traced. Prior to the Patriot Act, warrants had to be obtained in each state and for each phone number where a person could be located. Now, one warrant, often obtained in the highly conservative federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, can be enforced wherever the person is.

  • The FBI can monitor and tape conversations and meetings between an attorney and a client who is in federal custody, whether the client has been convicted, charged, or merely detained as a material witness. New York City attorney Lynne Stewart (the court-appointed representative of Sheik Abdel Rahman, who was convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing) was indicted for aiding and abetting terrorism based on conversations with her client.

  • The FBI can order librarians to turn over information about their patrons' reading habits and Internet use. The librarian cannot inform the patron that this information has been provided. Librarians, on the whole, are outraged at their new role; some have taken to posting signs in the library warning users not to use the Internet, others to destroying their logs of Internet users. One librarian said to a Washington Post reporter, "This law is dangerous . . . I read murder mysteries--does that make me a murderer? I read spy stories--does that mean I'm a spy?" (4)

  • Law enforcement can gain access to information on citizens by obtaining a secret warrant--known as a sneak-and-peak warrant--that gives no advance notice to the person whose home or possessions are to be searched. A standard criminal search warrant gives notice to the individual of the premises to be searched and the probable cause for the search (e.g., that, based on a reliable information, there is reason to believe that a certain crime has been committed) before the search is conducted. It is served on the person if the person is at home, or it is left at the premises and the search is done later. These new sneak-and-peek warrants allow law enforcement to search first, whether the individual in question is present or not, and give notice to the individual later.

  • Foreign citizens charged with a terrorist-related act may be denied access to an attorney, and their right to question witnesses and otherwise prepare for a defense may be severely curtailed if the Department of Justice states that this is necessary to protect national security. Jose Padilla, the American Muslim fingered by Ashcroft last year as a would-be "dirty bomb" builder, is a case in point. Resident alien men from primarily Middle Eastern and Muslim countries were required, until late 2003, when the program was abandoned, to report to immigration offices for registration. Once there, hundreds who reported were detained, arrested, tried, and deported for minor immigration infractions. Many were refused the right to appear with their attorneys, a refusal that is a violation of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS; formerly known as the INS) regulations. Though the government has the right, if it chooses, to exercise a zero tolerance policy for immigration violations, in this instance the policy was enforced only against Arabs and Muslims. (In late 2003 the USCIS announced that it was abandoning this reporting requirement, but it did not say why it was doing so.)

  • Lawful foreign visitors may be photographed and fingerprinted when they enter the country and be required to periodically report for questioning. This provision began to be enforced in early 2004.

  • The government can conduct surveillance on the Internet and e-mail use of American citizens without any notice, upon order to the Internet service providers (ISPs). Providers who move to quash such subpoenas may be charged with obstructing justice.
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