Viewpoint: Patriot Act advances police state restraints

“We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.”—Edward R. Murrow

A bad law, the USA Patriot Act, with only minor changes, has been set to be made permanent by action of the Congress this past week.

After a vote Dec. 8, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators declared: “We are gravely disappointed that the conference committee made so few changes to the Patriot Act reauthorization package that was circulated before the Thanksgiving recess. As we said then, we cannot support a conference report that does not contain modest but critical improvements, similar to those in the Senate-passed bill, to the most controversial provisions of the Patriot Act. We indicated before Thanksgiving that we would oppose a conference report like the one filed in the House today, and we believe many of our colleagues will join us.”

“The true character of this piece of legislation was revealed last month when Republican congressional leaders met in the Oval Office with George W. Bush to review the law.

Republican leaders warned the president that his push to renew the more objectionable parts of the Patriot Act might further irritate conservatives already angry over Bush’s attempt to nominate Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court.

Bush told them he didn’t care. One of his aides said: “Mr. President, there is a valid case that the provisions in this law undermine the Constitution.” Bush snapped back: “Stop throwing the Constitution in my face. It’s just a g—damned piece of paper!” according to a report by Capitol Hill Blue, a Washington newsletter. The publication said the editor talked with three people who heard the president make that remark.

That is how the Bush administration views the Constitution, despite a sworn oath by Bush and other top officials to uphold and defend the venerable document. In fact, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, while still White House counsel, wrote that the “Constitution is an outdated document.”

U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., issued a statement following the conference committee’s action. He said: “I will do everything I can, including a filibuster, to stop this Patriot Act conference report, which does not include adequate safeguards to protect our constitutional freedoms. The version of the Patriot Act that was signed today [Dec. 8] is a major disappointment. I appreciate that it includes four-year sunsets on three controversial provisions, but merely sunsetting bad law is not adequate. We need to make substantive changes to the law, and without those changes I am confident there will be strong, bipartisan opposition here in the Senate.”

Feingold said the fight over the Patriot Act is not finished. Ironically, the author of this flawed legislation is another Wisconsin congressman, Republican Sen. James Sensenbrenner.

What did Sensenbrenner use as a blueprint for this act? A little history provides the answer. In March 1933, Adolf Hitler met with newly elected members of the Reichstag at the Kroll Opera House in Berlin. The purpose was to consider Hitler’s “Enabling Act,” which would effectively end democracy in Germany and make Hitler the de facto dictator of the country.

The act was formally known as the “Law for Removing the Distress of the People and the Reich.” In our day, we have a law titled “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism,” the Patriot Act.

Hitler succeeded in pushing his enabling act through the Reichstag. After that, he could do anything he pleased for four years, and eventually indefinitely. The legislative chamber became nothing more than a cheerleading organization. The Nazis arrested 4,000 Communists and abolished all competing political parties.

Last September, German Justice Minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin noted George W. Bush was using Iraq to take the American public’s attention away from his failed domestic policies. She said: “That’s a popular method. Even Hitler did that.”

What is going on? The Bush administration cares not a whit about fighting terrorists or protecting our freedoms. Behind a smokescreen of national security and war headlines, it is pursuing Hitler’s old agenda of serving its corporate masters who brought it to power.

According to, here are some of the freedoms the Patriot Act has taken away since 9/11:

1. The government can invade your home or business without a warrant and without telling you and search through your belongings, download your computer’s hard drive, read your e-mail and snoop through your records.

2. Federal agents can compel libraries and bookstores to reveal what books you’ve checked out or bought and demand the names of anyone who bought or borrowed certain books. If the library or bookstore reveals the federal contacts, they can be prosecuted. The ACLU commented: “Searches could extend to doctors’ offices, banks and other institutions, which, like libraries, were previously off-limits under the law.” The Justice Department won’t say how many times it has used these powers.

3. Federal agents are empowered to eavesdrop on your phone conversations and read your e-mails, even if you are not suspected of a crime. The FBI can use its sophisticated technology to monitor every single thing you do on your computer, right down to individual keystrokes.

4. You can be arrested if federal agents merely “suspect” you of terrorist activities, and you can be held indefinitely without charges and with no access to an attorney. The president may declare anyone an “enemy of the state.”

5. You can become the target of a federal investigation merely for exercising First Amendment rights, such as writing a letter to the editor.

6. Police and federal agents are allowed to listen to discussions between attorneys and their clients, thereby denying the constitutional right to private legal counsel.

Well, it’s only a piece of paper, right? Those are just a few of the rights this ill-conceived act targets. As if this original law is not bad enough, the Bush administration, during the regime of John Ashcroft as U.S. Attorney General, tried to sneak through something called “The Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003,” popularly called “Patriot II.”

President Bush, in that year, said in a speech at the FBI Academy, “Under current federal law, there are unreasonable obstacles to investigating and prosecuting terrorism.” He urged allowing law enforcement to issue its own subpoenas without going before a judge or grand jury to make it easier to hold terrorism suspects without bail and to add several more death penalty statutes to the law.

Despite all the hype about terrorism and fighting it, the Patriot Act has done little to actually capture or thwart any terrorists. Here are some of the “terrorists” it has nailed: federal agents entered a toy store and demanded the owner remove a toy called the Magic Cube. The agents said the toy was an illegal copy of Rubik’s Cube and under the Patriot Act could not be sold.

The Patriot Act also has been used to harass Bev Harris, operator of, a Web site devoted to exposing vote fraud. Harris was told by federal agents not to disclose that she was being investigated. It is illegal for the government to demand a list of all members of a group.

In another instance, two students were questioned by the Secret Service about remarks they made about the president during a class discussion, according to

The misnamed Patriot Act is a key tool in the establishment of a police state. The Fourth Reich looms.

From the Dec. 14-20, 2005, issue

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