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Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Patriot Games

Someone used the word ‘boondoggle’ to describe the hubbub over the Patriot Act. I always support the use of ‘boondoggle’ to describe a hubbub…

Anyway, I was amused by the local Democrat party chairman, last week (and disappointed in my lack of response to much of what he rambled about, but he was so devoid of any logical flow that I found myself unable to adequately address him). We were both invited to speak to some students at Ball State. During the course of his “remarks” he said some things that have prompted me to look into the details of a few items, in an effort to provide a more direct response to his accusations.

The Patriot Act is one of those areas. He detailed how his son was detained at an airport and “almost strip searched”. The son had driven a girlfriend or sister or someone out west, and was flying back to Indiana. “He didn’t even have any bags with him”, he protested. Of course, both Cami and I have undergone the more detailed search at the security check point when we have flown one-way, with few bags. I believe, a male traveling alone, with a one-way ticket was, at one point, the primary trigger for a detailed search.

But this “violation of Civil Rights” constitutes a major injustice to my Democrat counter-part. (Can you imagine the look this would get from Dr. King? “Dr. King, I got searched at the airport. They violated my Civil Rights. Lets march on Washington!!!” I’m sorry, but in a world where people actually DO have their basic humanity taken away from them via abortion and euthanasia, having to take off your shoes to prove they aren’t bombs before boarding a plane isn’t that big of a deal…the terrorists just laugh and laugh when they see us struggling with these things…)

Back to my point: my political opponent called the Patriot Act “dangerous” and a “threat to all of our freedom” and said it promotes “things that just shouldn’t happen in these United States of America”.

I found this especially funny because it came right after he droned on and on about how the Republicans are the party of fear; that we blow threats out of proportion to try to scare them into voting for us. I wanted to say, “We’re the party of fear? You are the ones who, in EVERY ELECTION, go out of your way to frighten minorities (‘they want to end affirmative action’), the elderly (‘they want to take away your social security and Medicare’), people receiving government benefits (‘they want to take away your food stamps and welfare and health care’), students (‘they won’t feed you and they won’t pay for your college’), and anyone who will listen (‘they only help the wealthy and don’t want you to screw who you want and want you to have to have that baby and don’t want you to marry whoever you want or smoke whatever you want’).

That’s right, every single line of that old playbook was brought up within the 45 minutes we had with the students that day, and yet he called Republicans the party of fear.

So, without further ado, lets dive into some reading about the Patriot Act:


“WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The internal watchdog of the Justice Department has found
34 new credible civil rights and civil liberties violations under the
anti-terrorism USA Patriot Act, according to a report released Monday. “

ahhh…34 violations!!! That got old John Conyers riled up (you poor people in Michigan…):

"This report shows there are more victims of John Ashcroft's war on the
Constitution," said Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan. "The attorney general appears
on television nearly every week claiming to protect us, while he simultaneously
dismantles our civil liberties and civil rights. Will the Justice Department
ever admit that it has gone too far?"

Some of the abuses: “verbal abuse by prison staff, rude treatment by immigration and naturalization inspectors.”

That Bastard Ashcroft! Why, no prison guard had ever been verbally abusive to inmates before the Patriot Act! And, can you imagine, immigration inspectors – FEDERAL EMPLOYEES – being RUDE before this most heinous legislation was conceived in the dark minds of that fascist Ashcroft?!? Haliburton is surely making money off of this deal!!!! (sorry, slipped into liberal rant mode…)

Of course, the other side of this story is this: until the Patriot Act, there was no provision for the Department of Justice to systematically investigate the reported abuses.


The House points out that the Patriot Act was the vehicle for the review of Civil Rights violations, not the subject of it. In other words, as stated above, the abuses reported were found because of the Patriot Act, and were not necessarily abuses caused solely BY the Patriot Act. Many news reports credited the complaints as “Patriot Act abuses” at least in their misleading headlines.

If one wanted to actually gauge the effect of the Patriot Act on our Civil Liberties, one would need to look at the rate of reported abuses and the rate of substantiated abuses prior to the passing of the act. The problem is, there is nothing to compare to, because until the Act was put in place, there was no system to respond to such abuses. You would think someone as eloquent as John Conyers would be able to draw the distinction. He could say, “look at this abuse, right here…that wouldn’t have happened if the Patriot Act (in sections x, y, and z) hadn’t given the government more power.” But I have yet to see such a specific charge.
I’ll let this guy speak for me a bit here:


Any "B" horror film director can tell you that monsters are always the
scariest when they're kept lurking in the darkness. At the end of January 2004,
the Justice Department's Inspector General completed its Patriot Act-mandated
six-month review of civil rights and civil liberties complaints levied against
actions conducted under the Patriot Act. The results were that out of 1266
complaints, the Inspector General found precisely zero abuses of the Patriot
Act. That's right, in the report by the agency Congress designated to
investigate allegations of abuse under the Act, the Patriot Act has been
responsible for violating the civil rights of exactly no one. If you are
surprised to hear this, it's no wonder. The major networks and major news papers
barely breathed a word of it.

It also doesn't match the hyperbolic statements that have been routinely
espoused from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union which has stated
the Patriot Act "expands the government's ability to search private property
without notice to the owner" and claimed that people's "library habits could
become the target of government surveillance...the secrecy that surrounds
section 215 leads us to a society where the thought police can target us for
what we choose to read." For nearly three years the ACLU has sounded like a
gaggle of hysterical old women - and I don't mean any offense to
hysterical old women.

The fact is that law enforcement has always been able to search private
property, with a search warrant approved by a judge, without notice to the
owner. (See the Supreme Court's Dalia v. U.S. (1979)). The Patriot Act does in
fact provide, that upon the issuance of a court order, a court can delay notice
of a search warrant's execution when the immediate notification may result in
death or physical harm to an individual, flight from prosecution, evidence
tampering, or witness intimidation. This may be a good thing (I would
argue that it is) or it may be a bad thing, (What exactly is the
counter-argument?) but it certainly is not a new thing.

As for the ability to search library records under the infamous section
215, the fact is that any grand jury in the United States, yes, even the one
that convenes in the old courthouse in your town, can subpoena your library
records if you are suspected of criminal activity. That was actually one piece
of evidence leading to the capture of the Uni-bomber, years before there was
such a thing as the Patriot Act. The irony is the Patriot Act is actually
more protective of our privacy, as it requires approval by a judge, whereas
grand juries don't: they simply have to issue the subpoena themselves, without
any judicial review. Additionaly, grand juries don't have to make any
exception for material protected under the first amendment - unlike the
exception in the Patriot Act that prohibits the government from searching for
such materials. It is also undisputed, incidently, that section 215 of the
Patriot Act has never been used in the nearly three years since it has been
enacted. That's right: Never.

You can check out more about the Patriot Act “Myths” at this site:


I think a reassessment of the Patriot Act is needed. I support any effort on the part of the government to actually be accountable, and an honest look at the Patriot Act would be a great place to demonstrate how government SHOULD WORK.

I would love to see a measured debate which said, “hey, look, here’s an abuse that shouldn’t be allowed to go on, it acutally happened right here in this case...lets change the act to get rid of that power or at least restrict that power to extreme circumstances.” Then, the other side, if there is one in a particular case, could say, “you know, this power is really important in cases like x, y, and z…maybe we SHOULDN’T restrict this, maybe we should broaden it.” A discussion could ensue, and reasonable compromises could be worked out.

But, what am I thinking. This is Congress we are talking about here. It is hard to be reasonable with the John Conyers of the world…


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