Bye-Bye Ashcroft
September 22, 2003
Ashcroft Attempts To Defend Patriot Act And Divert Attention Away From His Own Legal Problems


Ashcroft slams critics as Patriot Act backlash grows

By Tom Regan for the Christian Science Monitor.


The attorney general continues to insist that the Act "respects rights and increases security." USA Today looks at how the Act is at the heart of Ashcroft's powers as attorney general.

There are also some people who don't think Ashcroft and the Patriot Act have gone far enough. They would like to see a halt to all immigration of any kind, for instance, as a better way to prevent terrorism.

Delaware Online reports that Patriot Act "abuses," however, are starting to surface. People with no connection to any form of criminal activity say that they are being deprived of the right to open bank accounts, get credit cards, etc. because of the Patriot Act.

Shortly after he graduated from college in May, French Clements of San Jose, Calif., tried to open an online brokerage account with Harrisdirect, where his stepfather has an account. A day after he completed the online application, however, he got a brief e-mail from Harrisdirect saying, "We regret to inform you that we are unable to approve your application at this time: The customer's identity not properly authenticated per the USA Patriot Act." Clements was stunned, and so was his mother, Alayne Yellum. "Maybe they don't like people named French," she says...

Critics of the Patriot Act also point out that it is now being used in other areas of law enforcement.

"Within six months of passing the Patriot Act, the Justice Department was conducting seminars on how to stretch the new wiretapping provisions to extend them beyond terror cases," said Dan Dodson, a spokesman for the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys. "They say they want the Patriot Act to fight terrorism, then, within six months, they are teaching their people how to use it on ordinary citizens."...

An analysis of the act, as it is being implemented by the federal government and subtly revised by the courts, indicates that so far it has not threatened the civil liberties of millions as some claim but neither has its use avoided unintended consequences and damage to innocent lives. The problem is that because of government secrecy the fate of some Muslim-Americans rounded up since 9/11 is still unknown it is difficult to know exactly how the law is being enforced.

Finally, it seems that Ashcroft is having some legal problems of his own. On Friday his department filed a brief saying that he shouldn't be required to appear in a Michigan federal court to explain why he violated a judge's gag order in place during a terrorism trial. Ashcroft is accused of violating a court order when he praised government informant Youssef Hmimssa during an April 17 news conference. At the news conference, Ashcroft called Youssef Hmimssa's cooperation "a critical tool" in efforts to combat terrorism.


Here is the full text of the article in case the link goes bad:

http://search.csmonitor.com/search_content/0916/dailyUpdate.html

Daily Update

By Tom Regan | csmonitor.com
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updated 1:00 p.m. ET September 16, 2003

Ashcroft slams critics as Patriot Act backlash grows

The war of words over the USA Patriot Act heated up considerably over the past few days, thanks in part to a recently completed "Patriot Act Tour" conducted by US Attorney General John Ashcroft. The tour, conducted in front of small, law enforcement friendly audiences, excluded participation from the general public. (At Faneuil Hall in Boston, Ashcroft addressed a crowd of 150, while outside the hall a crowd of 1200 chanted "This is what democracy looks like.") The tour was designed to create support for the act, but in some ways may have done just the opposite.

One of the main charges critics of the Patriot Act aim against Ashcroft is that rules designed to catch terrorists will be used against ordinary citizens. They also say police and prosecutors will use the laws created by the Patriot Act in other areas of law enforcement. These critics include people from both the left and the right of the American political spectrum.

Ashcroft blasted some of these critics on Monday, taking aim in particular at librarians. The Associated Press reports that Ashcroft said people are being wrongly led to believe that libraries have been "surrounded by the FBI," with agents "dressed in raincoats, dark suits and sunglasses. They stop everyone and interrogate everyone like Joe Friday."

The attorney general continues to insist that the Act "respects rights and increases security." USA Today looks at how the Act is at the heart of Ashcroft's powers as attorney general.

There are also some people who don't think Ashcroft and the Patriot Act have gone far enough. They would like to see a halt to all immigration of any kind, for instance, as a better way to prevent terrorism.

Delaware Online reports that Patriot Act "abuses," however, are starting to surface. People with no connection to any form of criminal activity say that they are being deprived of the right to open bank accounts, get credit cards, etc. because of the Patriot Act.

Shortly after he graduated from college in May, French Clements of San Jose, Calif., tried to open an online brokerage account with Harrisdirect, where his stepfather has an account. A day after he completed the online application, however, he got a brief e-mail from Harrisdirect saying, "We regret to inform you that we are unable to approve your application at this time: The customer's identity not properly authenticated per the USA Patriot Act." Clements was stunned, and so was his mother, Alayne Yellum. "Maybe they don't like people named French," she says.

As evidence of the Act's effectiveness, the Justice Department often points out that 260 individuals have been charged, and that 515 "linked" to the 9/11 investigation have been deported. But the Christian Science Monitor reports that what the government doesn't reveal is that the vast majority of the 260 charged and 515 deported were involved in relatively minor crimes or immigration infraction, and had nothing to do with Al Qaeda or terrorism.

Critics of the Patriot Act also point out that it is now being used in other areas of law enforcement.

"Within six months of passing the Patriot Act, the Justice Department was conducting seminars on how to stretch the new wiretapping provisions to extend them beyond terror cases," said Dan Dodson, a spokesman for the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys. "They say they want the Patriot Act to fight terrorism, then, within six months, they are teaching their people how to use it on ordinary citizens."

In one case, a North Carolina county prosecutor charged a man accused of running a methamphetamine lab with breaking a new state law barring the manufacture of chemical weapons. If convicted, Martin Dwayne Miller could get 12 years to life in prison for a crime that usually brings about six months. AP reports that prosecutors are making no apologies for these tactics, saying that while the Patriot Act's primary focus is on terrorism, lawmakers are aware it contains provisions that have been on prosecutors' wish lists for years, and could be used in a wide variety of cases.

It is this idea of law enforcement officials jamming every conceivable thing on their wish lists into the Patriot Act (because they knew a Congress staggered by the 9/11 attacks would pass it), that enrages so many people. The Chicago Sun-Times reports on a recent debate where retired judge, and former Clinton White House Counsel, Abner Mikva said the act is "making us into the Police State of America."

"It's a 342-page bill that changes our immigration laws, privacy laws, security, detention, the entire way the federal government treats its people," Mikva said ... Mikva described it as a grab bag of civil liberties-defying requests from federal prosecutors that he had rejected during the Clinton years. "I was at the White House in 1995, and we were able to get some of the worst provisions excluded from the 1995 act, and they were just dumped wholesale into the Patriot Act," Mikva said.

The growing backlash against the act may make it more difficult for the Bush asministration to get new provisions added to it. The Washington Post reports that President Bush used the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks to call for empowering authorities in terrorist investigations to issue subpoenas without going to grand juries, to hold suspects without bail and to pursue the death penalty in more cases. But The Toledo Blade reports that Bush didn't go as far as Ashcroft wanted, because senior Republican lawmakers had told him many of these new provisions would be "dead on arrival."

As the Blade also points out, knowing whether Ashcroft or his critics views are justified is made more complicated by the Justice Department's refusal to release information about Patriot Act prosecutions.

An analysis of the act, as it is being implemented by the federal government and subtly revised by the courts, indicates that so far it has not threatened the civil liberties of millions as some claim but neither has its use avoided unintended consequences and damage to innocent lives. The problem is that because of government secrecy the fate of some Muslim-Americans rounded up since 9/11 is still unknown it is difficult to know exactly how the law is being enforced.

Finally, it seems that Ashcroft is having some legal problems of his own. On Friday his department filed a brief saying that he shouldn't be required to appear in a Michigan federal court to explain why he violated a judge's gag order in place during a terrorism trial. Ashcroft is accused of violating a court order when he praised government informant Youssef Hmimssa during an April 17 news conference. At the news conference, Ashcroft called Youssef Hmimssa's cooperation "a critical tool" in efforts to combat terrorism.

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