President Bush Misleads American Public on Patriot Act in Presidential Debate

October 8, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — In response to President Bush’s call for support of the USA Patriot Act during tonight’s debate, the American Civil Liberties Union said the Patriot Act was enacted in haste without adequate debate and that Congress should revisit it, not make it permanent.

“President Bush misled the American public in tonight’s presidential debate when he said that under the Patriot Act — every action requires a court order,” said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director. “In fact, just two weeks ago, a federal judge ruled portions of the Patriot Act unconstitutional because they don’t require a court order.”

Mr. Romero was referring to a court decision in September striking down a federal statute, expanded by the Patriot Act, as unconstitutional. The law allowed authorities to seize records from any organization that facilitates Internet communications, including the ACLU, without going through a judge first.

President Bush also suggested that the Patriot Act was needed to let law enforcement use the tools wielded against criminals in terrorism cases, and that the law was required to make the FBI and the CIA communicate with each other. Both statements, the ACLU said, are misleading and, worse, obscure the real problems with the law.

The ACLU has debunked these and other myths at: /node/11569.

The Uniting and Strengthening America By Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Interdict and Obstruct Terrorism, or USA Patriot Act of 2001, was signed into law only 45 days after the attacks of 9/11, after only cursory debate.

Many in Congress, fearful of striking the wrong balance between freedom and national security, made their votes contingent on the inclusion of sunset requirements in some of the bill’s most contentious provisions. These require Congress to either reauthorize or let expire the sunseted provisions by December 31, 2005.

The president, however, has consistently called for a removal of the sunset provisions. Mr. Bush’s enthusiasm for even the most controversial parts of the law, including one that expanded the government’s ability to search a person’s home or office and not notify them until much later, flies in the face of concerted conservative uneasiness about the discretion given the executive branch in the law.

Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) and his fellow Idaho Republican in the House, Rep. C.L. “Butch” Otter, have led the charge to pass the Security and Freedom Ensured, or SAFE Act, which would subject the highly intrusive sections of the law to a greater degree of judicial review, and install other procedural checks to prevent abuse by the authorities.

Other conservative organizations and individuals, including the American Conservative Union and former Congressman Bob Barr from Georgia, have also been strident in their criticism of the Patriot Act.

President Bush’s comments about the Patriot Act tonight come after a number of major gaffes by the administration in the war on terrorism. In Detroit, the only major 9/11-related terrorism convictions were dismissed on the Justice Department’s own request recently, after it was forced to concede prosecutorial misconduct and extremely shoddy management practices in Washington.

In September, Oregon lawyer Brandon Mayfield filed suit against the Justice Department after a botched fingerprint analysis from the Madrid bombing resulted in his arrest and imprisonment. In seeking to detain Mayfield as a material witness, the FBI ominously highlighted his conversion to Islam, the fact that his wife is Egyptian and that he had been seen attending area mosques.

“Democratic and Republican members of Congress — now understand that parts of the Patriot Act are unconstitutional and that certain powers can be misused,” Romero said.

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