April 21, 2004

Latest Provision of "Patriot 2" Comes Before House Subcommittee, ACLU Rejects Further Expansion, Calls for Thorough Oversight

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Media@dcaclu.org

WASHINGTON - Following on the heels of President Bush's road trip to promote the controversial Patriot Act at events in Pennsylvania and New York, a key House subcommittee today considered a proposal to expand the Patriot Act's controversial definition of "terrorism" to provide a death penalty for any federal crime punishable by more than one year in prison if the crime was intended to influence government policy and results in death.

"The Patriot Act remains one of the most controversial measures ever passed by Congress," said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. "Attempts to expand it, such as the now-defunct draft Patriot Act 2 that floated around Congress last year, have been highly contentious. Now we're seeing attempts to pass provisions of Patriot Act 2 piece-by-piece."

Federal law already provides 20 separate death penalties for serious terrorism crimes, including bombings, hijackings, assassinations and hostage taking.

 

Testifying at today's hearing before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, Edgar reminded committee members that the Justice Department has not been forthcoming in its disclosures regarding how the Patriot Act has been used so far, saying Congress should review existing powers before adding to them.

"This proposal will rightly be seen as another federal infringement on civil liberties that will not make America safer," Edgar added. "It will result in increasing mistrust, both at home and abroad, even of legitimate anti-terrorism efforts and further isolate America in the world. It should be rejected."

The proposed legislation would do two things. First, it would make 23 crimes eligible for the death penalty. Second, it would create an unprecedented "catch-all" death penalty for any other federal crime punishable by more than a year in prison if it meets the PATRIOT Act's overbroad definition of terrorism and results in death. The ACLU said that protestors and activists from groups including Greenpeace and Operation Rescue could risk being sentenced to death for participating in certain civil disobedience events if they involved a federal crime punishable by more than a year in prison and resulted in a death of one of the participants or someone else.

Laws such as the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act and the federal gun control regime at 18 U.S.C. § 922, among many other crimes, could carry death sentences if the bill passed, Edgar said.

The ACLU also noted that the proposal could actually hurt the anti-terror efforts. Many nations that have abolished the death penalty are unwilling to extradite or provide evidence in federal terrorism cases if the death penalty might result from their cooperation. Suicidal, politically motivated terrorists such as members of Al Qaeda would be unaffected as often they are seeking to create martyrs for their causes and to generate publicity.

 

The ACLU's testimony on HR 2934, the "Terrorist Penalties Enhancement Act of 2003" can be found at:
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