Saturday, September 11, 2004

Patriot Act carves away basic rights

From: The Sun

"Those that can give up essential l
iberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin

As the nation struggles for security in the wake of 9-11, it is whittling away at its own foundation the Bill of Rights.

Civil liberties have been sacrificed as the government attempts to keep us safe.

Laws passed shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon three years ago allow law enforcement to detain suspects indefinitely without pressing criminal charges.

Under the USA Patriot Act, authorities may search homes unannounced and monitor Internet, phone, medical and library records without evidence of wrongdoing.

"The point of the Patriot Act is to stop terrorist attacks. It would not do us any good to prosecute someone after they have murdered 3,000 of our people," said U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Mark Carallo.

"A lot of times you will find us charging individuals with minor violations visa expirations, bank fraud," Carallo said. "If it gets them off the streets before they can advance their plots and plans, we've done our job."

The problem with this philosophy, critics say, is that it deprives people of their constitutional rights.

"The Patriot Act is pretty much irrelevant to the war on terrorism," said William Green, a national security professor at Cal State San Bernardino and a member of the Naval Reserve, because terrorists are secretive.

Flexible definition
How the Justice Department identifies terrorists is unknown. The criteria depends on who's in charge.

"Future administrations may consider you a terrorist if you belong to a pro-gun group, a citizen militia or a pro-life organization," wrote Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, on his Web site in May. "Legitimate protest against the government could place you and tens of thousands of other Americans under government surveillance."

In April, the Secret Service questioned a 15-year-old boy who drew President Bush with his head on a stick with devil horns. They also confiscated the Prosser, Wash., high school student's drawings of a flaming Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Such a violation of the constitutional right to free speech "is the vision of Nazi Germany," said University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone, author of "Perilous Times: Free Speech in War Time," which will be released in October.

Stone voiced a growing fear that the USA Patriot Act and recent executive orders allow the government to oppress at will.

"To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics aid terrorists," Attorney General John Ashcroft testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Dec. 6, 2001, the eve of the 60th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack.

The patriotic response
"The Patriot Act is al-Qaida's worst nightmare," Ashcroft said in July while touting the nation's success at preventing another attack from the Islamic extremist group behind the 9-11 attacks.

Now highly controversial, the USA Patriot Act United and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism zipped through Congress six weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks with minimal public scrutiny.

"There is more power than ever in the executive branch ... and some of that you might argue justifiably," said Avi Cover of Human Rights First, an international group of lawyers that promotes freedom and human rights. "But the level of openness and knowledge has decreased."

The Justice Department has released little information about how it fights terrorism domestically. It reported in July that between Sept. 11, 2001, and May 5, terrorism investigations resulted in 179 convictions or guilty pleas.

Though the report stated the USA Patriot Act was integral to these investigations, it did not report whether those convictions and guilty pleas were terrorism-related.

Six days after 9-11, FBI agents in Detroit arrested four suspected members of a terrorist "sleeper cell" during a sweep of Arab immigrants. Ashcroft said the men may have had prior knowledge of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.

In what was heralded as the first jury-trial victory against terrorism, two of the men were convicted of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists; one was convicted of document fraud; and one was acquitted.

But nine days ago, after a Justice Department internal investigation reported the prosecution deliberately withheld evidence useful to the defense, a federal judge ordered a new trial for the two convicted of providing material support, Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi and Karim Koubriti.

After the findings were reported, Carallo told The Sun that the Justice Department has not violated civil liberties.

"We do everything within the bounds of the Constitution," the spokesman said. "I would like someone to name a civil liberty that has been infringed upon."

With the USA Patriot Act up for renewal next year, President Bush has asked for additional powers: wider use of the federal death penalty, tougher bail for suspected terrorists and FBI powers to issue subpoenas without a judge or grand jury approval.

Being Muslim
Added security measures don't make Amita Vaidya feel any safer.

On Dec. 4, 2002, she was three months from transferring from the Hewlett Packard office in Cupertino to a bureau in the United Arab Emirates. It was a promotion, and it came with a salary increase and a housing and transportation allowance.

But when a Mountain View police officer stopped Vaidya for a broken brake light that day, the 38-year-old human resources assistant's future fell apart.

The San Jose resident had recently returned from visiting her new office in Dubai, and when she reached for her driver's license, about 800 Dirhams spilled onto the seat.

Officer Todd Krasno snatched the money without her permission, Vaidya said.

"He asked if it was false money and I said, `No, it is currency from the Middle East,' which I probably shouldn't have done," she said.

Vaidya, who is Indian and has dark skin and hair, said Krasno then asked if she is Muslim.

Vaidya demanded to speak with his supervisor. When the sergeant arrived, she said she would only speak with a "minority officer," the police report states.

Vaidya was arrested for not signing a notice to appear in court. She was taken to the police station, where she claims more officers questioned her.

"The questions were the same," she said. "They asked me if I was a Muslim, if I celebrated Ramadan. They asked if my luggage was searched when I came back from Dubai at the San Francisco airport. They asked me if I am a U.S. citizen, (and) where I was raised."

The Police Department has no record of a formal interrogation, Public Information Officer Jim Bennett said.

Vaidya was booked for a busted brake light and obstructing a peace officer and was released two hours later. The officers said she did not provide her driver's license. She refused to plead guilty and the case dragged on for 19 months, which prohibited her from leaving the country. She forfeited her new job. When she reapplied for her old job at Hewlett Packard, Vaidya was told to come back when her case was over. A Bank of America recruiter told her the same.

Her third attorney finally convinced her to plead no contest in June to not providing the officer with her license. She has since moved back in with her parents and works at a San Jose preschool that her mother runs.

Vaidya speaks of the incident tearfully. She doesn't understand why her attorneys wouldn't allow her a jury trial where it would be her word against three police officers'.

But she has an opinion about why a routine traffic stop changed her life.

"They arrested me because they thought I was a Muslim," Vaidya said.

Krasno left the Police Department earlier this year and was unavailable for comment. The department declined to say why or where he went, citing confidentiality. The police report does not mention money or Islam. Witness against himself In the government's zeal to stop terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, the Justice Department has used preemptive tactics.

"People are being arrested and held as material witnesses when they are not believed to be witnesses to a crime of somebody else, but to themselves," said Ronald Carlson, a University of Georgia law professor specializing in material witnesses.

"It is a disguise to hold them indefinitely," he said.

The USA Patriot Act did not spawn the material witness law, but the Justice Department is putting it to a new use.

The law has existed since the early 1800s. It was designed to detain criminal witnesses who posed a flight risk. It now allows law enforcement to arrest first and investigate later.

In May, the FBI used it to arrest Portland, Ore.-based lawyer Brandon Mayfield, a suspect in the Madrid, Spain, bombings that killed 191 in March.

In Mayfield, the government found a lot of speculative evidence Muslim convert, Egyptian wife, phone call to an Islamic foundation, client later convicted of terrorism, partial fingerprint on a plastic bag involved with the bombing but nothing concrete.

Just to be safe, Mayfield was detained and defamed. News headlines labeled him "Madrid Mayfield," though the FBI filed no charges.

Three weeks later, the bureau apologized and released Mayfield. The fingerprint on the bag belonged to another man.

Mayfield recently hired Gerry Spence, a renowned trial lawyer based in Jackson Hole, Wyo., and plans to sue the United States.

Reached at their respective law offices, both men declined to comment.

The Justice Department reported to Congress in January 2003 that less than 50 people had been held as material witnesses.

"I believe the number is much higher," said Cover, Human Rights First counsel.

An exact number never has been provided. Doing so would compromise terrorism investigations, said Bryan Sierra, a Justice spokesman.

FBI making checks
In anticipation of violent protests at the Democratic and Republican national conventions this summer, FBI agents visited a handful of activists around the country.

The questions were the same: Do you know of plans for mayhem? If you did, would you tell us? Do you know that failing to share such information is a crime?

One FBI spokesman said the interrogations were part of an ongoing criminal investigation, which he declined to discuss. There was evidence protesters planned to throw Molotov cocktails at media tents in Boston, said Carallo, the Justice Department spokesman.

Both conventions occurred with minimal violence. Despite hundreds of thousands flooding New York streets to protest President Bush and the Iraq War, there were few reported incidents of mayhem, though police arrested more than 1,700 protesters.

The FBI visits had sent a clear message: You're being watched.

"It's got to be harassment," said Paul Bame, an anti-globalization activist who without warning was visited at work before the Democratic National Convention.

"You know that feeling you get when the flashing red light goes off in your rearview mirror?" asked the 45-year-old Fort Collins, Colo., resident. "It's more intimidating when you are not speeding. And since I am not planning criminal activities, it's like why is this guy calling me? It's scaring me."

The Justice Department, in a five-page memo to FBI field offices in April, said such FBI activities would not violate the Constitution.

"It is doubtful that the mere monitoring and reporting of lawful protest activity, without more, would raise any substantial First Amendment problems," the memo stated. Watch what you read Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act has received more public criticism than any other provision, and from an unlikely group of activists librarians.

The provision allows the government to obtain library records and gags librarians from telling anyone if it happens.

"I find it stinks of totalitarianism," said San Bernardino Public Library Director Ophelia Roop, who was born in Communist Bulgaria and lived there for 15 years.

The concern for librarians is that the government will flag certain books as terrorist propaganda, discouraging or preventing people from reading them.

"This was one of the biggest criticisms in the United States against communism," Roop said, "that people couldn't read freely or think freely."

The 64,000-member American Library Association resolved in January 2003 that "sections of the USA Patriot Act are a present danger to the constitutional rights and privacy rights of library users."

Ashcroft said in September 2003 that library records had not been obtained, but he has not reported to Congress about it since. Carallo said its use is confidential.

Vocal concern, action
Though Congress has not amended the USA Patriot Act, a grass-roots movement to overturn portions of it has spread across the country. Three hundred fifty-two cities, counties and states have passed such resolutions.

California cities, including Los Angeles, account for 50. Arcata and Ukiah, two small Northern California cities, passed ordinances that prohibit local law enforcement from assisting the federal government.

Not a single community in San Bernardino, Riverside, Orange, San Diego or Imperial counties is on this list. Southland resolutions against the law end at the Los Angeles County-San Bernardino County line, on the east end of Claremont, where the city of 35,000 condemned the USA Patriot Act in February 2003.

A bipartisan resolution introduced in the California Legislature last year would urge Congress to repeal portions of the USA Patriot Act that violate civil liberties.

"The noise of concern is loud enough that it is worth the federal government listening to," said Assemblyman Ray Haynes, R-Riverside, the principal co-author.

The way those in Congress interpret that noise differs.

"Tapping your phones. Going into your homes. Profiling. A multitude of civil liberties ... that could be abused all in the frame of law and order," said Rep. Joe Baca, D-Rialto, who voted for the act but said it has been ineffective.

On the opposite side is Rep. David Dreier, a staunch Bush supporter.

"Looking back, the Patriot Act has been an explicit success," said the Glendora Republican, who insisted on a December 2005 sunset for some of its provisions.

But the secrecy surrounding the use of some of the USA Patriot Act's provisions worries nonpoliticos.

"A lot of this is conjecture and speculation, fear and paranoia," said Charles Lewis, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity, a government watchdog. "Maybe there is a good reason for it in national security, but then you owe it to the American people to explain it."

"The secrecy is excessive," he added.

The reason for the secrecy is simple, Carallo said: "We're at war."

Looming threat
What Vice President Dick Cheney refers to as a "new normalcy," is actually very old. From the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 to the FBI's monitoring of religious and political groups during the 1960s and `70s, individual rights have been sacrificed for national security and stability.

"Our nation does not have an unblemished record protecting civil liberties," FBI Director Robert Mueller III said in 2002 at Stanford Law School while discussing how the FBI must meet the present terrorism challenge.

"Any time in history when we really tried to sacrifice civil liberties for added security, the result has not been worth the pain," said James Carafano, a senior research fellow on defense and homeland security at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Washington.

To be sure, terrorism is real. The Department of Homeland Security says the threat will escalate as the November presidential election approaches.

"Al-Qaida wants to target things that either cause mass casualties, mass economic damage or (are) icons of America," said Gary Winuk, chief deputy director of the California office of Homeland Security, "and we have lots of that."

The 9-11 commission reported the intelligence community was asleep leading up to the attacks. Despite an urgent request to discuss terrorist threats with President Bush on Jan. 21, 2001, counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke was not allowed to meet with Cabinet-level officials until seven days before the attacks.

Fixing the system
Still, the attacks probably could not have been prevented, the commission reported, recommending an overhaul of the dismembered intelligence community. Nowhere in the 428-page report did the commission suggest increasing surveillance of U.S. citizens.

"The 9-11 commission didn't paint these terrorists out to be 10 feet tall. These guys could have been caught," Carafano said. "We need to take these guys seriously. On the other hand, we don't need to destroy democracy and spend ourselves into the ground fighting them."

Yet, the president's pick to head the CIA is pushing for broader domestic spying powers. Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla, introduced a bill in June to give the CIA power to monitor American citizens.

Goss declined requests for an interview.

"We're not on the door of fascism, but history moves very quickly," said Jim Lafferty, executive director of the Los Angeles Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.

"If there were to be another heinous attack like there was on Sept. 11, I shudder to think what the government might do and what the American public might accept."