ACLU Says President Bush Misled Public on Patriot Act; Urges Congress to Bring Law In Line with the Constitution

June 9, 2005 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union called the president’s address today on the Patriot Act to law enforcement personnel in Columbus, Ohio both misguided and disingenuous. Key parts of that law are set to “sunset” or expire at the end of the year, and the administration is pushing to not only reauthorize the act, but to expand it.

The following can be attributed to Lisa Graves, ACLU Senior Counsel for Legislative Strategy:

The president’s Patriot Act rhetoric simply doesn’t match the facts. The American people deserve an honest debate, not rehashed photo opportunities full of inaccuracies designed to mislead.”

“The president claimed that under the Patriot Act, ‘terrorism’ charges have been brought against more than 400 suspects. A study by Syracuse University, however, found that the vast majority of these were minor, non-terrorism offenses. These individuals posed such little threat to national security that most served no jail time. More importantly, while many of these people were prosecuted under terrorism statutes, these were not all the result of the Patriot Act – they were cases that the government deemed as being related to terrorism. In fact, at recent hearings government witnesses said there had been only a dozen or fewer terrorism prosecutions in the past four years.

“The most offensive portion of the President’s remarks was his claim that the Patriot Act is constitutional. The ACLU is actively involved with litigation challenging the constitutionality of the Patriot Act and the powers it expanded. Some expansions the Patriot Act made to the law have already been ruled unconstitutional. Other challenges are still being considered by the courts.”

“The president stressed the role of judges as a check against abuse, but let’s look at the facts. Under section 215 of the Patriot Act, judges who sit on a secret court must approve a request for records about people’s health, wealth or the transactions of their daily life if the law enforcement agents say they want it for a foreign intelligence investigation. None of these requests has ever been denied and the order includes a permanent gag order. And the White House has refused the common sense requirement that there be specific facts connecting the records sought to a foreign agent. And, at the same time, the White House is now pushing for ‘administrative subpoenas,’ which would allow the FBI to issue and sign its own search orders – without prior judicial approval. If this became law, we would go from diminished judicial approval to none at all: this is the administration’s idea of checks and balances.

“The president repeated the claim that there have been no reported abuses of the Patriot Act. Brandon Mayfield would certainly disagree. His wrongful arrest based on faulty police work and the secret search of his home and DNA is but one example – given the government’s refusal to disclose how key parts of the Patriot Act is being used as well as the permanent gag orders in the act, it remains highly likely that many more abuses remain out there. Also the president acknowledged that the Civil Liberties Oversight Board, the very mechanism designed to track any abuses of the Patriot Act, remains unfilled and unfunded. It’s no surprise that the administration hasn’t admitted any abuses.”

“The president is pushing a political agenda, and not listening to the people. Nationwide, nearly 400 communities and seven state legislatures have passed resolutions calling on Congress to bring the Patriot Act in line with the Constitution. Leading conservative, liberal and nonpartisan organizations have found common ground in reforming the Patriot Act. Lawmakers should respond to their concerns, and reject this continuing power grab by the executive branch.”

For more on the ACLU’s concerns with the Patriot Act, go to:

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