Police state : heads up ! – expanded death penalty


Richard Moore


No pause in Patriot Act pounding 
By ROBYN E. BLUMNER, Times Perspective Columnist 
Published October 26, 2003 

When pressed over whether Lakers star Kobe Bryant should
continue playing basketball while the issue of his alleged
sexual assault is under consideration by the courts, NBA
Commissioner David Stern told the Los Angeles Times:
"Absolutely. We don't have a Patriot Act in the NBA."

It appears the repressive nature of the USA Patriot Act,
which is 2 years old today, has penetrated the American
consciousness to such an extent that it now stands as
shorthand parlance for any type of unfairness. Despite
Attorney General John Ashcroft's barnstorming tour of the
country, selling the act to friendly audiences of law
enforcement, nearly 200 communities, including three
states, have passed resolutions objecting to its excesses.

You would think this general unease would cause President
Bush to pause before proposing additional entrenchments.
But no, it seems to only have spurred him on. In a speech
given on the eve of the second anniversary of the 9/11
attacks, our tin-eared president decided the time was ripe
to propose Patriot Act expansions.

The proposed changes, which the president called the
closing of "loopholes," may seem technical, but within
those details lie our character as a nation. Are we a
model of liberty, even in the face of threats to our
national security? Or has al-Qaida's ragtag band impelled
us to unravel a 200-year commitment to due process? Which
is what Bush and Ashcroft are pushing.

Bush wants three additional powers from Congress.

First, he wants to give the Justice Department the
authority to confiscate records and compel testimony
without review by a court or grand jury.

The Patriot Act had substantially changed the law in this
area by removing the requirement that federal agents tie
the records they are seeking - be they library, medical,
financial, educational or other records - to an
investigation of a foreign agent or terrorist. Now, all
the government has to do is certify to the Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Court - a court that operates in
secret and is only open to government lawyers - that the
records are "sought for" an investigation into terrorism
or espionage.

Where once the FBI could only demand that bookstores turn
over records on a particular customer who was under
suspicion, now the FBI can seize the entire customer
database as long as it somehow figures in an ongoing
investigation. The Patriot Act made the courts little more
than a rubber stamp for the FBI.

But even this is apparently too much of a paean to the
separation of powers for Bush. He wants passage of the
"Antiterrorism Tools Enhancement Act of 2003" that would
give the FBI "administrative subpoena" authority to
confiscate any records and compel any testimony on its
say-so alone. The bill would eliminate entirely court
oversight, or as Bush would call it "interference."

Second, Bush wants to chip away at the right to bail.
Current law allows a judge to deny bond for anyone shown
to be dangerous or a flight risk. And, for anyone accused
of international terrorism, there is a presumption against
granting bond.

Not good enough, according to the president. He wants
passage of the "Pretrial Detention and Lifetime
Supervision of Terrorists Act of 2003," a bill that would
keep people accused of a whole range of new crimes behind
bars pending trial by making those crimes presumptively
"no bond" offenses.

This is an attempt to lock people up first and investigate
later. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, more than 750
immigrants were jailed for months while the Justice
Department looked into potential ties to terrorism. In the
end not, one was charged. Now Bush wants the power to do
the same thing to Americans and immigrants here legally.

And third, Bush wants to expand the reach of the federal
death penalty by making it applicable to "domestic

Under the Patriot Act, the crime of "domestic terrorism"
couldn't be more broadly written. Any criminal act
intended to influence the government through "intimidation
or coercion" involving "dangerous acts" qualifies.
Aggressive protesters of all stripes from Greenpeace
activists to abortion foes could easily fall within this
definition, opening the door for politically motivated

Bush also wants the death penalty for those convicted of
providing "material support for terrorism," a law that can
be violated even when people think they are giving money
to a charity and don't know the group is a designated
terrorist organization.

While Bush is working to undo more of our liberty, there
are bipartisan efforts in Congress pushing back. Perhaps
the most promising is the "Safety and Freedom Ensured
(SAFE) Act" that would rollback some of the worst excesses
of the Patriot Act. If even NBA commissioners know the
Patriot Act is a bad thing, what is Congress waiting for?

© Copyright 2003 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved 


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