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Bush's plan to shred more civil liberties

By Nicole Colson | June 17, 2005 | Pages 1 and 2

THE BUSH administration is out to expand federal law enforcement powers with the reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act.

Congress has to reauthorize portions of the civil liberties-shredding law passed after September 11--which gives federal investigators authority to use "roving wiretaps," indefinitely detain immigrant suspects, secretly search a person's home without notification and subpoena library records.

The Bush administration wants to make these provisions of the PATRIOT Act permanent. And it wants to tack on a few others for good measure.

The worst of the new measures would legalize "administrative subpoenas" that allow the FBI obtain a person's medical, financial and other records in terrorism cases without having to seek a judge's approval--as long as they claim the material is needed as part of a foreign intelligence investigation.

Another provision would allow federal law enforcement agencies to conduct searches and obtain wiretaps and records without a judge's order--as long as they can be tied to an investigation of foreign-based terrorism suspects.

In other words, the Feds would have the right to treat suspects as "guilty until proven guilty."

"This is a dramatic expansion of the federal government's power," Lisa Graves, senior counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, told the New York Times. "It's really a power grab by the administration for the FBI to secretly demand medical records, tax records, gun purchase records and all sorts of other material if they deem it relevant to an intelligence investigation."

Last week, Bush claimed that the USA PATRIOT Act was indispensable in fighting the "war on terror"--and that "federal terrorism investigations have resulted in charges against more than 400 suspects, and more than half of those charged have been convicted." But according to the Washington Post, Bush's claims "are misleading at best."

With at least 1,000 people detained in the witch-hunt against Arabs and Muslims that followed September 11, only a fraction of the 180 people charged in terrorism probes had a demonstrated connection to terrorism or terrorist groups. In all, the Post found, just 39 people--rather than the 200 the Bush administration claims--were convicted of crimes related to terrorism or national security. The bulk of those convicted were charged with relatively minor crimes, like making false statements or violating immigration laws.

But the Bush administration and its allies don't care about rounding up innocent people--and they're not willing to tolerate any criticism of the "war on terror."

At a House Judiciary Committee session on the USA PATRIOT Act last week, for example, Chair James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) closed the session prematurely--and stormed out.

Sensenbrenner became enraged after Amnesty International Chair Chip Pitts said that the U.S. prison camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, were "the gulag of our time." Rep. Mike Pense (R-Ind.) called the comparison "anti-historical, irresponsible and the type of rhetoric that endangers American lives." When Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) raised a "point of decency" to allow Pitts to respond, Sensenbrenner closed the session, declaring: "I think this hearing very, very clearly shows what the opponents of the PATRIOT Act are doing."

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