Viewpoint: Patriot Act worries legal panel

Viewpoint: Patriot Act worries legal panel

By Joe Baker

Patriot Act worries

legal panel

By Joe Baker

Senior editor

“Beware the leader who bangs the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor, for patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword. It both emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind.

“And when the drums of war have reached a fever pitch and the blood boils with hate and the mind has closed, the leader will have no need in seizing the rights of the citizenry. Rather, the citizenry, infused with fear and blinded by patriotism, will offer up all of their rights unto the leader and gladly so.

“How do I know? For this is what I have done. And I am Caesar.”—Julius Caesar

Concern over the recently passed USA Patriot Bill continues to grow. A recent panel of lawyers at Emory University agreed the new law is very likely to be used against American citizens.

The panel said the Bush administration may use this law to fight terrorism, but putting the act into effect will prove very costly to all of us in terms of personal freedom and civil liberties.

Emory law professor Kathleen Cleaver declared: “To return to the use of criminal law in ways that prohibit citizens from challenging government has an eerie feeling for me.”

Cleaver was a communications secretary for the Black Panther Party from 1967 to 1971. The FBI listed her as an “agitator” during the civil rights movement. She spent several years in exile with her husband, Eldridge Cleaver, coming back to the U.S. in 1975.

“This is not where it’s going to end. This is just the start of repressive legislation,” she warned. It is said another 50 pieces of legislation are planned before the act takes effect next March. Each one will restrict or eliminate more of our freedoms.

Gerald Weber, also a professor of law at Emory and legal director of the Georgia ACLU, said he understands the desire to do something in the aftermath of 9/11, but he said: “The problem is, we don’t yet know what’s needed, and we don’t yet know what we’ve done.”

Weber believes existing laws are adequate to fight terrorism, and he thinks it unlikely that the Patriot Act would have prevented the terrorist attacks of September or that it

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will boost government efficiency in battling terrorism.

“The government’s had a wish list of things that they would like to change, like to clarify,” he said. “They’ve got it now. They now have very wide-ranging powers to engage in unchecked fishing expeditions with very little judicial review,” Weber added.

A law professor at Georgia State University, Natsu T. Saito, said she’s worried organizations like Greenpeace and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals will be labeled domestic terrorists under this law because the 140-page act has no specific definition of terrorism. Terrorists can be anyone the government says they are.

Saito’s father and other family members were held in internment camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II. “It’s obvious that none of the panelists like the changes going on,” Saito said. “What it really means is having your private life exposed to the government.”

She said she is concerned over the “sneak and peek” provisions of the act, which allow law enforcement agencies to search homes and offices without telling the owners or occupants they are doing so.

Saito is additionally alarmed that these searches have been broadened to include monitoring Internet traffic and telephone conversations.

Ward Churchill, an author and law professor at the University of Colorado, said none of it surprises him. “Counter-intelligence and counter-insurgency techniques date back to the 19th century,” he said. He cited a number of landmark cases in support of his claim.

“The list goes on and on. It’s not like there’s an absence of record,” Churchill said. “We’ve been in a police state for a long, long time.”

The Patriot Act grants the government sweeping authority that not only will affect individuals, but businesses as well. Weber cited the 1992 Bank Secrecy Act which gave the Treasury Department access to any bank account tagged for suspicious activity.

Weber said the act expands the scope of that law and the power of the FBI and the CIA. “Your credit reports and financial documents can be looked at without you ever knowing it’s been done,” he said. “The government doesn’t have to give notice, and there is no judicial review.”

Global companies, the lawyers said, will be subject to increased scrutiny. Weber said large corporations and businesses that have international dealings, as well as those companies with ties to the Mideast will be most affected. “You need to make sure you have an awareness of who your company’s dealings are ultimately with,” he said.

“It’s hard to know who you’re dealing with in an international corporation,” Weber said, “Now, there’s a greater obligation to know.”

Cleaver said the government wasted no time exercising some of its new power. “Immediately after the act was passed, there were FBI agents gearing up to go into business offices and do searches. I’m afraid they’ll use it to go get anything,” she said.

Caglar Ozden, professor of economics at Emory, is worried about another part of the Patriot Act. That is the money laundering section and its ramifications for U.S. business. These provisions kick in whenever cash payments of more than $10,000 are made.

Ozden said trying to track money laundering costs the country billions of dollars annually. That total undoubtedly will rise under the Patriot Act, he said. “The banks aren’t saying anything because it would be political suicide to oppose the bill, but they must be very concerned,” Ozden said.

He said this section of the new law will hit small business more than big corporations. Ozden said a large corporation reporting a $1 million transaction will feel less of a pinch than a small company reporting a hundred $10,000 transactions.

Cleaver said the Patriot Act gives her a sense of “deja vu” she’d rather do without. She remembers the 1970s when the government said a new kind of radical called for a new type of law.

None of the lawyers on the panel believe the powers of this act will remain restricted to terrorists. The detention camps could come back. Some say they’re being readied right now.

Weber urged his audience to read up on the act and tell others what they learn. It can be found on the U.S. Senate website under SB 1510. Then contact your congressmen and tell them this is bad legislation and you want to see it amended. And tell them you will hold them accountable.

“We need to regain any liberties temporarily suspended or infringed because of this tragedy—that’s our job,” Weber said. “Otherwise, I really believe the terrorists have gained another victory.”

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