Straight to the source

1. Passed with little debate or scrutiny six weeks after Sept. 11, the USA PATRIOT Act does a lot more than attempt to protect us from the likes of al Qaeda.

An analysis by the Center for Constitutional Rights stated: “The expansive law … creates a new category of crime called ‘domestic terrorism.’ Because this crime is couched in such vague and expansive terms, it may well be read by federal law enforcement agencies as licensing the investigation and surveillance of political activists and organizations based on their opposition to government policies. It may also be read by prosecutors as licensing the criminalization of legitimate political dissent.”

2. Called by Village Voice columnist Nat Hentoff “the most radical government plan in our history to remove Americans from their liberties under the Bill of Rights,” the Justice Department’s secret plan for a sequel to the USA PATRIOT Act was leaked to the Center for Public Integrity ( in February and posted on its Web site. In an editorial, the Washington Post said the proposed legislation would place its targets “in a kind of alternative legal world.”

3. The Washington Post was among several sources that reported Justice Department officials lied when asked by Congress if PATRIOT Act II legislation was being worked on.

4. Although Congress recently decided to “sharply curtail” activities of the Total Information Awareness program, “its functions could be expanded at any time,” writes Matthew Brzezinski in the New York Times Magazine, Feb. 23, 2003. Adm. John Poindexter is still at the helm.

5. As reported in the Santa Fe New Mexican last month, a patron logging on to an Internet chat room from a St. John’s College Library computer was handcuffed and detained by local police for five hours after Secret Service agents accused the 40-year-old man, a federal polygraph instructor, of making threatening remarks about President Bush.

6. The Times Union of Albany, N.Y., reported earlier this month that Stephen Downs, 60, was arrested for trespassing at a local mall after refusing a request to leave. The reason: He was wearing a T-shirt — purchased at that very mall — with “Give Peace a Chance” written on the back and “Peace on Earth” in front.

7. Among other things, draft legislation for the Defense Security Enhancement Act of 2003, nicknamed PATRIOT Act II, proposes further clampdowns on disclosure of information regarding the arrests of terror suspects. According to Geov Parrish, of the online publication Working for Change (, if the measure is enacted, “FOIA requests will be denied, leaks will be crimes, and publication of that leaked information will also be criminal. This is essentially the legalization of secret arrests, no different in form or impact than Stalin’s goons taking people away in the dead of night.”

8. As noted by journalist Bill Moyers on his PBS program “Now”: “The House Judiciary Committee actually asked the FBI a few months ago how it has used the new powers that had been given to it under the PATRIOT Act. And the Justice Department said, ‘We can’t give you that information, it’s classified.’”

9. Section 206 of the PATRIOT Act II draft bars witnesses in terrorism cases from discussing their testimony with the media or the general public, thus preventing them from defending themselves against rumor-mongering and denying the public information it has a right to receive under the First Amendment, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (

10. An October 2001 memorandum from Attorney General Ashcroft explicitly urged government employees to be stingy with information requests. Julian Borger of the Manchester Guardian Weekly reported in March 2002: “The memo tells civil servants that ‘when you carefully consider FOIA requests and decide to withhold records you can be assured that the Department of Justice will defend your decisions.’

“The chill induced by Ashcroft’s note is only now making itself felt.”

11. When peace activist Daniel Muller and a colleague requested non-flag stamps at a Chicago post office, police were summoned. Cops asked the men for identification, ran a check on them, and asked why they made such a request, according to an article in the Dec. 8, 2001 edition of The Progressive magazine. Mueller replied that, as an adherent of nonviolence, he preferred Statue of Liberty stamps to the flag. Told to come back the next day, the two men were detained by postal inspectors and interviewed for a half-hour.

12. Matthew Brzezinski reported in New York Times Magazine, Feb. 23, 2003, that an adviser to President Bush estimates that as much as $100 billion a year will have to be spent annually on domestic security over the next 10 years.

13. According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, Section 213 of the PATRIOT Act authorizes the delay of providing warrant information regarding searches and property seizure.

14. “Support for the First Amendment has eroded significantly since Sept. 11 and nearly half of Americans now think the constitutional amendment on free speech goes too far in the rights it guarantees,” the Associated Press reported Aug. 30, 2002.

“‘Many Americans view these fundamental freedoms as possible obstacles in the war on terrorism,” said Ken Paulson, executive director of the First Amendment Center, based in Arlington, Va., which commissioned the survey. Almost half also said the media has been too aggressive in asking the government questions about the war on terrorism.”

15. From the March 9 New York Times: “WIRED burnouts take heed: Two weeks ago, after the federal government shut down 11 Web sites that trafficked in drug paraphernalia like bongs, roach clips and cocaine spoons, the Internet addresses didn’t simply disappear from cyberspace. Instead, visitors to sites like and are likely to be routed to a message board hosted by the Drug Enforcement Administration. ‘The Web site you are attempting to visit has been restrained,’ the message reads in part. The words are superimposed on an American flag.” Of course, the DEA has the capability to determine who is visiting the site, the Times said.

16. “Since 1986, AeroVironment has been developing small unmanned aerial vehicles for use in military surveillance, law enforcement, and civilian rescue efforts,” according to the company’s Web site ( “The award-winning Black Widow … is a six-inch, electrically powered aircraft with a small camera …”

17. In February 2002, Attorney General Ashcroft told a group of Christian broadcasters: “Civilized people — Muslims, Christians and Jews — all understand that the source of freedom and human dignity is the Creator.”

“Correct me if I’m misinterpreting the Word of Ashcroft, but he’s saying that a lot of the people he’s supposed to protect are uncivilized,” wrote San Francisco Chronicle columnist Rob Morse. “I don’t believe in God, but if I did God would be generous enough to grant the presumption of civility to skeptics, atheists, agnostics and the apathetic.”

18. “Attorney General John D. Ashcroft has a draft of a sequel to the 2001 PATRIOT Act that would grant the government startling new powers to deport, secretly imprison, wiretap and spy on citizens and noncitizens,” declared a recent editorial in the St. Louis Post Dispatch. “The bill, dubbed the Super-PATRIOT Act by its critics, is antithetical to a government of constitutionally protected rights and is an abject surrender to the intimidation of terrorists.”

Among the provisions in PATRIOT Act II: “Allow the government to strip the citizenship from Americans who are suspected of terrorism, even if they are merely aiding the legal activities of a terrorist group.”

19. From The Guardian, March 12, 2002: “The U.S. has been secretly sending prisoners suspected of al Qaida connections to countries where torture during interrogation is legal, according to U.S. diplomatic and intelligence sources. Prisoners moved to such countries as Egypt and Jordan can be subjected to torture and threats to their families to extract information sought by the U.S. in the wake of the September 11 attacks.”

20. The American Library Association ( has taken a prominent role in protesting the government’s decision to snoop on the reading habits of library patrons.” Lack of privacy and confidentiality has a chilling effect on users’ choices,” according to a statement on the ALA’s Web site. “All users have a right to be free from any unreasonable intrusion into or surveillance of their lawful library use.”

21. The ACLU reports that the PATRIOT Act II seeks to expand application of the death penalty to 15 additional crimes, “including a new death penalty for ‘terrorism’ under a definition which could cover acts of protest such as those used by Operation Rescue or protestors at Vieques Island, Puerto Rico, if death results.”

22. U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York is the ranking Democrat on the House Constitution subcommittee. In January, he heaped scorn on Bush, describing a president “who claims the right to label any American citizen an ‘enemy combatant’ and that anyone so labeled can be thrown in jail forever, with no right to a lawyer, no right to a trial, no right to due process, no right even to seek a writ of habeas corpus, and that no court has jurisdiction to examine the president’s claim. No one in Anglo-American jurisdiction has had the nerve to claim such tyrannical power since before the Magna Carta.”

Curt Guyette is the Metro Times news editor. E-mail [email protected]
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