Victory Act scariest of all

Since Congress blindly passed the U.S.A. Patriot Act not long after Sept. 11, 2001, Americans’ opposition to this misnamed and misbegotten law has grown. Today, there are more than 150 cities, three states—Alaska, Vermont and Hawaii—several police departments and a host of individuals and organizations that are refusing to obey this draconian directive. Bad as the Patriot Act is, Attorney General John Ashcroft wants to make it worse. When he proposed and it leaked out that an effort would be made to pass Patriot II, the public uproar forced him to back off. Ashcroft did not give up, however. He just became more sneaky. Now he’s working to push something called “The Vital Interdiction of Criminal Terrorist Organizations Act of 2003,” more popularly known as the Victory Act. The handiwork of Sen. Orrin Hatch, a far-right Republican from Utah, this grab bag of police state goodies will shred what few liberties were missed by Patriot I. This draft bill runs some 87 pages. Nat Henthoff, a constitutional authority writing in The Village Voice, called this proposed measure “the most radical government plan in our history to remove from Americans their liberties under the Bill of Rights.” Because of the backlash over these drastic proposals, the government decided on a public relations campaign to improve their image and try to sell them to the U.S. taxpayers. Ashcroft in August embarked on a two-week national tour to praise these totalitarian blueprints. Columnist Jim Hightower quipped: “What—was Bela Lugosi not available?” The seriousness, or lack of it, in this venture was that Ashcroft spoke only to law enforcement groups and only in closed-door sessions. At each stop, he told local reporters he was talking only to television news people, no print reporters wanted. His new scam is that this will furnish him a tough new weapon to fight drug trafficking. In addition, he had Justice Department officials across the country meeting with local residents to assure them these acts did not apply to them, they are only for hunting and catching terrorists. Not to worry. Let’s take a look at that. Claim: The Patriot Act does not apply to Americans. “U.S. citizens cannot be investigated under this act.” “It is not directed at U.S. persons.” “If you read the act, that’s absolutely not true…It can’t be for U.S. citizens.” We’ve heard that one here. Fact: Section 215 (a) 1 of the act specifically states it authorizes the government to conduct “investigation of a United States person.” The statute says that includes both citizens and permanent residents. Claim: The FBI can’t simply investigate someone on a whim. It must convince a judge there is “probable cause” the person is a terrorist or a spy. The chief PR honcho of the Justice Department said flatly: “The standard of proof before the court is the same as it’s always been. It’s not been lessened.” Fact: Section 215 will permit the FBI to get your library, medical, financial and other records just by telling the secret FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court that such information is “relevant” to an investigation. For his part (or hers), the judge is directed to enter an order allowing this snooping expedition based only on the FBI’s claim that the data is relevant. There’s no convincing, no presenting any kind of argument. The judge is told, “do it!” Claim: We will not abuse our investigative authority. Ashcroft, without even a faint smirk, declared the agency “goes to great lengths to protect the privacy of every American. If you’re not a terrorist or a spy, you have nothing to worry about.” Yeah, right. That’s horse-laugh time, Johnny-boy! Fact: If we could trust these guys, why would we need the Bill of Rights? Maybe that’s why he is so intent on destroying it. The history of the FBI and other federal agencies is rife with abuses of power, including now. It teaches we need firm controls on police powers. They, not trusting their good intentions, will help keep us free. On May 30, 2002, Ashcroft lifted the ban on federal agents or informants to spy on worship services, political meetings, Internet chat rooms and other places where Americans gather, whether there is any evidence of illegal doings or not. Here are some more fine ideas in the Victory Act: Americans can have their citizenship revoked if it’s determined they have aided or given support to any groups the government doesn’t like or that it terms “terrorist.” Hentoff wrote: “Until now, in our law, an American could only lose his or her citizenship by declaring a clear intent to abandon it. But—and read this carefully from the new bill—“the intent to relinquish nationality need not be manifested in words, but can be inferred from conduct.” Legal permanent residents could be instantly deported without charges or evidence if Ashcroft considers them a national security threat. Even minor, non-terrorist offenses will get them booted out because the Victory Act exempts habeas corpus review in some cases. The government would build a gigantic database of citizen DNA data in an effort to detect terrorists or their activities. Samples of your DNA would not require a court order. Refuse and you get a $200,000 fine and a year in jail. The feds could wiretap anybody for 15 days and snoop on your Internet use without getting a warrant. If a person is arrested and held on suspicion of terrorist activity, the government would be barred from releasing any information about them until they are actually charged. “For the first time in U.S. history,” Hentoff said, “secret arrests will be specifically permitted.” Businesses that turn in their customers to the FBI will be granted immunity, even if their information is completely false. The same shield would be provided police officers if they were carrying out orders. Howard Simon, executive director of Florida’s ACLU, said: “The restrictions on political surveillance were hard-fought victories for civil liberties during the 1970s.” And get this, U.S. citizens could be subject to secret surveillance by our government on behalf of foreign governments, including dictatorships. The death penalty would be enlarged to cover 15 new offenses. To top it off, the sunset provisions in Patriot Act I would be rescinded. Perhaps the most frightening provision is this: the FBI could issue its own non-judicial subpoenas which compel the target to turn over financial records and appear before a prosecutor to answer questions. Blocking wiretaps will become more difficult. The judge has to find “bad faith by law enforcement” in order to say no. Welcome to the Fourth Reich!

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