Patriot Act Redux
Within days of the release of an internal report blasting the U.S. Justice Department for abusing illegal immigrants detained after the Sept. terrorist attacks, Attorney General John Ashcroft pressed Congress for even greater authority in new measures dubbed "Patriot II."
The Patriot II proposal, otherwise known as the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, would:
- Increase the use of the death penalty, pre-trial detentions and deportations;
- Explicitly expand the application of counter-terrorism laws to cover those who train with terrorist groups;
- Strip the citizenship status of those linked to designated terrorist groups;
- Limit the disclosure of information about detainees; and
- Expand the power of the government to conduct surveillance and collection.
Despite the sweeping powers afforded the government in October 2001 by the first version of the USA Patriot Act (Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (PATRIOT) Act of 2001, Pub. L. 107-56, 115 Stat. 272 (October 26, 2001), Attorney General Ashcroft unapologetically pursued additional authority to correct "several weaknesses which terrorists could exploit, undermining our defenses.
"We must be vigilant, we must be unrelenting," he told the House Judiciary Committee in early June. "We must not forget that al Qaeda's primary terrorist target is the United States of America. Even though recent attacks were overseas, the terrorist network is committed to killing innocent Americans, including women and children, by the thousands or even the millions, if they can."
Watchdog groups remained unconvinced by Ashcroft's rhetoric: "It's frightening that the attorney general is seeking more authority to detain people, to spy on them, and even strip them of their citizenship, when the Department of Justice's own inspector general has documented serious abuses of power that have already occurred in the government's anti-terror campaign," said staff attorney Ben Wizner of the ACLU of Southern California.