After the Capitol Hill event, more than a dozen librarians went with ACLU members to the Justice Department to deliver 25,000 petition signatures from supporters all over the country who want the government to “Let John Doe Speak.”
We traveled down Independence Avenue to 950 Pennsylvania Avenue. Standing on Pennsylvania Avenue, if you look South you see the dome of the Capitol, where Members of Congress are considering whether to reform key provisions of the Patriot Act, or make them much worse, as proposed by the House bill under consideration.
Looking across the street you can see the FBI’s headquarters, named for J. Edgar Hoover, the long-time and notorious director of the FBI who ordered FBI agents to keep tabs on thousands of ordinary Americans who had done nothing wrong.
Looking northwest, you can see the flag flying over the White House, where President Bush and his aides have repeatedly called for the Patriot Act to be made permanent with hardly any changes.
Finally, facing the main entrance to the Justice Department, you can see carved in stone above the grand aluminum doors “The Place of Justice is a Hallowed Place” (a quote from Francis Bacon). In this building, Gonzales has carried on John Ashcroft’s campaign to make the Patriot Act permanent and to suggest that changes to restore checks and balances would tie law enforcement’ hands, even though requiring facts before searches would actually make us more safe and more free. That entrance is, ironically, now closed to the public. So you have to walk around the building, past dozens of armed guards to the Constitution Avenue entrance.
At the sidewalk, a hulking and armed agent refused to let the group of librarians deliver the petition. Instead, he arbitrarily asserted that only two people could go in the entrance to call the mail room to pick up the petitions. Knowing there was no law or regulation that limited to two the number of people from one group who could make such a delivery, I said I would be going in as well and asked if there were other librarians who wanted to join . He asked us for our IDs and after glancing at them he let the President of the ALA and of the CLA through along with me.
We wanted a picture to document us walking in to deliver the petitions. The guard didn’t seem pleased about that either, but he allowed the photo. (Later, he demanded the name of our colleague who took the photos.) We walked through the door and phoned the mail room. When a DOJ employee came to receive the bulk of documents, the librarians asked to make sure it would make it to the Attorney General, and were assured they would be delivered.
That’s how the petitions made it to the Justice Department. Hopefully, Gonzales will listen to the American people and allow John Doe to speak.
We’ve just heard that the two Patriot Act bills could be resolved by the week of October 17th. If John Doe is ungagged before then, his testimony could provide critical information for members deciding whether to reform these dangerous powers. The Senate bill takes some positive steps for reform, although more improvements are needed to bring the Patriot Act in line with the Constitution.
Hopefully the place of justice will be a hallowed place again someday, when our nation’s top lawyers honor and protect our First and Fourth Amendment rights, rather than working to erode them.