Patriot Games: The Sequel
By Glenn Weiser
Metroland - March 6, 2003

The amendments to the USA PATRIOT act were withdrawn in the face widespread criticism. - GW 

Leaked draft of the Justice Department’s latest plans to enhance homeland security has civil libertarians up in arms

Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union took out full-page ads in the New York Times and the Washington Times to call attention to an apparently leaked draft of a Justice Department bill expanding the October 2001 USA P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act to allow even greater latitude in spying on, detaining and possibly deporting American citizens who are terrorist suspects.
Attorney General John Ashcroft has come under criticism since early last month when the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit corporation, posted the draft of a sequel to the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act, the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, on its Web site (it can now be read online at Marked "Confidential-Not for Distribution," the Jan. 9 bill had been the object of rumors and subsequent denials of its existence by the Justice Department for weeks before being made public. The document alarmed civil libertarians, and last week the ACLU detailed its provisions in a high-profile advertising campaign. Among the key features of the draft:

o "Prohibition of Disclosure of Terrorism Investigation Detainee Information." The Justice Department, which has already been assailed by critics for its tightlipped ways, would receive new powers to deny Freedom of Information requests on the status of those being held as suspected terrorists.

o "Distribution of 'Worst Case Scenario' Information." This appears to be a blow aimed at the Clean Air Act, which mandates the EPA to require private companies that use potentially dangerous pollutants to prepare "worst-case scenario" reports describing the health risks of releasing these chemicals into the companies' surrounding communities. A section of the act restricts FOIA requests for these documents to "read-only" methods for people who live in areas surrounding potentially hazardous industrial sites. In the draft, the DOJ attempts to justify the limitations on such FOIA requests by describing them as "a roadmap for terrorists."

o "Terrorist Identification Database." This would create a DNA database for suspected terrorists, citizens thought to have any association with terrorist groups, and noncitizens suspected of having aided terrorist groups.

o "Appropriate Remedies with Respect to Law Enforcement Surveillance Activities." The DOJ proposes in this section to eliminate all state law-enforcement consent decrees before Sept. 11, 2001, unrelated to racial profiling or other civil-rights for two weeks before a judge had to sign off on it, and would give state police agencies a free hand to spy on individuals and organizations. The DOJ contends that these consent orders, originally passed in response to police surveillance abuses, could hinder antiterrorism investigations.

o "Presumption for Pretrial Detention in Cases Involving Terrorism." If the government thinks you're a terrorist or affiliated with terrorists, this means jail without bail before trial. Of course, this happens routinely in serious criminal cases or where a suspect is considered a flight risk, but now even being suspected of a terrorism offense would be enough to land you behind bars.

o "Expatriation of Terrorists." In what is probably the harshest provision of the bill, you, a U.S. citizen, could be banished from American soil with no rights of appeal if the government concludes that you were planning to relinquish your American citizenship by your suspected terrorist-related actions. No explicit declaration of any intent to do so would be needed: Uncle Sam could infer it from your actions and deport you. Even if your activities in a group labeled as a terrorist organization by the attorney general were entirely legal, you would still run this risk.

Responding to the furor created by the draft bill, the Justice Department released a statement on Feb. 7 saying in part, "We are continually asking our field prosecutors, investigators and experts what tools they need to prevent future acts of terrorism. During our internal deliberations, many ideas are considered, some are discarded and new ideas emerge in the process along with numerous discussion drafts. Department staff have not presented any final proposals to either the attorney general or the White House. It would be premature to speculate on any future decisions, particularly ideas or proposals that are still being discussed at staff levels." Reached by telephone on Feb. 25, Justice Department spokeswoman Monica Goodling refused all comment on the matter, instead referring a caller to the Feb. 7 communiqué.

Asked for his views on the DOJ draft, U.S. Representative Michael McNulty (D-Green Island), who voted for the first P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act, replied in an e-mail, "As we continue to deal with the new reality of terrorist threats, we must also be careful not to go too far and risk eroding the civil liberties which mean so much to all of us. I believe it is entirely premature to be suggesting alterations or additions to the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act, and would examine any such proposals with great scrutiny."

List of Metroland Stories by Glenn Weiser                          ©2003 by Glenn Weiser. All rights reserved.


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