Ashcroft pushing for Patriot II

Despite some cries of alarm and claims of holding it up, the administration is not backing off on what is commonly called “Patriot Act II,” the sequel to the U.S.A. Patriot Act.

As reported by Scripps-Howard News Service, Attorney General John Ashcroft continues to push for this oppressive legislation even though the White House—sensitive to public protest—is moving far more slowly on the bill.

Ashcroft contends the original Patriot Act has “several weaknesses which terrorists could exploit, undermining our defenses.”

Congressmen, who passed the Patriot Act out of fear and intimidation, fear the new law is being used in cases not related to terrorism.

In one case, prosecutors used the law to seize stolen money that a fugitive lawyer placed in bank accounts in Belize. Similar tactics have been used in cases involving drugs, credit card fraud, theft from a bank account and kidnapping, according to the report.

A celebrated case involves activist attorney Lynne Stewart. She was appointed by the court to defend Sheik Abdel Rahman on charges related to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

Stewart was arrested on a charge of aiding and abetting her client’s “acts of terrorism” after she answered a reporter’s question at a news conference. Representing her client is what she was appointed to do, but Ashcroft has made attorneys and their clients targets in his war on civil liberties.

The legislative counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union, Tim Edgar, said: “Many of these terrorism powers were actually being asked for as a way of increasing the government’s authority in other areas.”

The attorney general wants three changes to begin, which would grant additional powers to law enforcement. First, he wants to make it unlawful to fight for a terrorist organization; second, he wants the death penalty for various terrorist actions and, third, he wants to extend the pre-trial detention of those arrested for terrorist-related offenses.

A number of congressmen, including several Republicans such as Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, have voiced concerns about giving law enforcement considerably more authority, and asking questions about civil liberties.

“I believe the (Justice) Department and Congress must be vigilant toward short-term gains which ultimately may cause long-term harm to the spirit of liberty and equality which animate the American character,” Sensenbrenner said.

Ari Fleischer, presidential press secretary, said the administration is constantly assessing the status of anti-terror laws “because it’s an ongoing issue against opponents who quickly realize what strengths we have and then design ways to get around our strengths to exploit potential weaknesses.”

Fleischer said this reassessment likely will continue for some time. “And this will also be, of course, done with an eye toward maintaining civil liberties and constitutional protections,” he said. “And this is where it’s very important to continue to discuss these matters with members of Congress in both parties who have important thoughts about this,” Fleischer said.

Asked whether the president supports Ashcroft’s drive for more power, Fleischer said Bush wants to work for anything that will bolster our ability to fight terrorism and will work with Congress on specifics.

A recent report of the inspector general criticized the Justice Department for detaining some illegal aliens who turned out to have no links to terrorism.

Ashcroft was not conciliatory. He insists the Patriot Act has brought “steady progress in America’s war on terrorism.”

To many concerned with the question of civil liberties, the major question is: “Who may be classified as a ‘terrorist,’ and how is that determination made?”

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