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USA Patriot Act Needs Dismantling
18 September 2002
Now that the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 has passed, the United States is fast-approaching the one-year anniversary of the Bush administration's assault on domestic civil liberties.
The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, a grab bag of police-state schemes cobbled together by Attorney General John Ashcroft to capitalize on 9-11 fears, was signed into law by President Bush on Oct. 26, 2001.
It had been passed with almost no debate by the House of Representatives two days earlier, on a 357-66 vote. Of the 66 votes against the legislation, 62 came from Democrats, three from Republicans and one from Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders. Among the members of the House who rejected Ashcroft's grab for dramatically enhanced surveillance powers and the ability to punish legitimate political activism were two Wisconsin House members: Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, and Tom Barrett, D-Milwaukee.
In the Senate, only one member opposed the grotesquely misnamed "USA Patriot Act": Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold. At the time, Feingold described the legislation as a "truly breathtaking expansion of police power." Almost a year later, he says, "I would cast the same vote today, but even more confidently, as we see how law enforcement is beginning to use the new powers in the bill and how the Department of Justice has proceeded on a variety of fronts not directly addressed in the bill."
As the United States approaches the one-year anniversary, some components of the USA Patriot Act have already been challenged with success in the courts. But, for the most part, the breathtaking expansion of police power remains every bit as breathtaking and expansive as when it was enacted.
It is for this reason that activists with the Madison Area Peace Coalition have proposed that the Madison City Council enact a resolution that puts the city on record in defense of civil liberties, provides direction for city police to respect those liberties, and calls upon Wisconsin's representatives in Congress "to actively work to repeal the USA Patriot Act." Council member Brenda Konkel is expected to introduce a version of the resolution this evening.
Madison is just one city where activists and local elected officials are moving to challenge federal legislation that, in the words of Nancy Chang, senior litigation attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, "sacrifices our political freedoms in the name of national security and upsets the democratic values that define our nation by consolidating vast new powers in the executive branch of government."
The one-year anniversary of the enactment of the USA Patriot Act cannot be allowed to pass unnoted - in Madison or anywhere else in America. On Oct. 26, 2001, fearmongers and fools began dismantling the Constitution. As Oct. 26, 2002, approaches, true patriots need to begin the hard work of dismantling the USA Patriot Act.
Editorial, Madison Capital Times