BOSTON—The USA Patriot Act was signed into law in October of 2001, but you wouldnt know it by listening to John Ashcroft.
The U.S. Attorney General was here today as part of his multi-city road show ostensibly to drum up support for the Act, which was whisked into law nearly two years ago with extremely little congressional opposition as a response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Speaking to dozens of state and local law-enforcement personnel and government officials, who lined but did not fill the famed Faneuil Hall, Ashcroft said the Patriot Act has enabled the Department of Justice to “connect the dots” of terrorist activity since Sept. 11. For example, a technology update in the Patriot Act to an existing law enabled law-enforcement to locate some of the killers of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.
The Patriot Act, according to Ashcroft, has also enabled the DoJ to double the governments pool of human sources since 9/11.
“Our enemies underestimated you,” he told the audience, “and they underestimated America.”
While Ashcroft choked his way through the speech (he was suffering from a sore throat) inside the building, several hundred protestors outside screamed for an abolishment of the Patriot Act—charging it seriously infringes on civil liberties—and for the ousting of Ashcroft.
Protesters arent the only ones giving the Attorney General a hard time. In July, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller, over what it said were unconstitutional portions of the Patriot Act. In the same month, the Office of Inspector General—an independent group set up to investigate allegations of fraud, misuse and abuse of authority by all departments under the DoJ, including the FBI and DEA—reported that it had received more than 1,000 complaints of civil-liberty or civil-rights violations between December 2002 and June 2003 alone. Of those complaints, 272 were found to be within the OIGs jurisdiction, and 34 of those were found to warrant an investigation.
In total, the OIG has spent more than $400,000 investigating claims of civil-liberty and civil-rights abuses against the DoJ since Sept. 11.
And that situation could get worse. Some observers speculate that the Attorney Generals road show is merely Ashcrofts way of clearing a path in the publics mind for a second, more-expansive Patriot Act—dubbed Patriot Act II. Although Ashcroft made no mention of such a document in his speech, a draft was leaked to the Center for Public Integrity this summer. The CPI is running the document on its Web site.
One part of Patriot Act II, according to the draft on CPI, calls for the creation of a DNA database for “suspected” terrorists, or even individuals who are associated with a suspected terrorist. If thats true, the attorney general should continue to be a lightning rod for the Bush Administration.
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