While most Americans are glued to CNN watching the most recent news about the war on Iraq, Congress is quietly discussing steps to further to the Patriot Act with a sequel titled the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, or Patriot Act 2.
The first Patriot Act passed within six weeks of September 11 and was designed to allow security agencies and the police to respond to a threat that they had not dealt with before – terrorism. The Freedom of Information Act was restricted, phone lines became open for tapping and material aid to terrorism became a federal crime. At the time, this seemed like a good idea. Faced with a new challenge, our legislative branch rose to the task.
Now we have had time to think, time to breathe, time to reflect on how our country has changed since September 11. As the American public, we accept the longer lines at the airports, we accept the possibility of our bank accounts and phones being monitored and stand behind the Justice Department that prosecutes those who fund terrorism.
But how much are we willing to accept?
Attorney General John Ashcroft seems to think we can handle more. Or perhaps he believes we will be too absorbed in liberating Iraq to take notice to his new bill. In January, the Justice Department sent Vice President Dick Cheney and Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert a draft of Patriot Act 2.
This new act has many provisions, including:
*Continuation of Patriot Act 1 with no “end date.”
*Ability to deny Freedom of Information on “security grounds.”
*Creation of a DNA database of suspected terrorists, suspected associates and non-citizens suspected of crimes.
*Ability to hold all suspected terrorists before trial without bond
Trial without a jury for suspected terrorists.
*Expatriation of terrorists.
These are only six of more than 500 sections of the draft law. But let’s consider them further.
Expatriation of terrorists seems like a good idea. We don’t want a terrorist to be an American citizen. But the title of the section is misleading. If an American were to “support” terrorism, they could be expatriated. Define support. If you were to send money to a hospital in Chechnya, or to a political party in Algeria that is listed two months from now as a terrorist organization, you are in a material breach. But what about speech? It is currently unconstitutional to revoke American citizenship, but the Justice Department believes that “intent” now institutes the voluntary action of relinquishing citizenship.
When it comes to prosecuting a “suspected terrorist,” Ashcroft is operating off of a “guilty until proven innocent” doctrine. If there is no trial by the peers, if relatives, the press and the public cannot gain information about detainees, then the Justice Department is rewriting the Constitution.
And some people believe this is acceptable. It has worked before – we deterred Japanese aggression by putting Japanese-Americans in internment camps. McCarthy took his list of 57 names and it blossomed into a list of thousands.
We must provide security for Americans. However, we must do it for all Americans, under the laws and standards that our forefathers entrusted to us in the Constitution.
We charge the Justice Department with this duty. But we as Americans have the right and the responsibility to question the process. If we as a public do not speak up, then we may lose that right in the name of “patriotism.”
-The writer is a junior majoring in international affairs.
This article appeared in the April 17, 2003 issue of the Hatchet.