Patriot Act Redux
The attacks on Ashcroft, muted at first, have come from many quarters since the Patriot Act's passage, including civil liberties and immigrant groups. Now they are growing more obvious from both Democrats and Republicans. Criticism from Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, that Ashcroft was making a civil liberties error tantamount to the internment of Japanese-Americans might be expected.
So might disapproval from U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, a Massachusetts Democrat. "It appears that the American people feel that the government is intent on prying into every nook and cranny of people's private lives, while at the same time doing all it can to block access to government information that would inform the American people as to what is being done in their name," he said.
While it is true that "our enemies are ruthless fanatics," Delahunt said, "the solution is not for us to become zealots ourselves so that we remake our society in the image of those that would attack us."
But few expected reservations from the influential Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee himself, U.S. Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin. Sensenbrenner said he was concerned about the effects of counterterrorism on civil liberties.
"To my mind, the purpose of the Patriot Act is to secure our liberties and not to undermine them." He cautioned that although the Patriot Act is credited with great strides, including various prosecutions, his support for the Patriot Act is "neither perpetual nor unconditional."
He warned, "I believe the [Justice] Department and Congress must be vigilant towards short-term gains which ultimately may cause long-term harm to the spirit of liberty and equality which animate the American character."
Sara-Ellen Amster is a freelance writer based in California.