Patriot Act Fix Just a Beginning
We often say the Patriot needs to be fixed, not extended. In an editorial today, the New York Times makes a further important point: Fixing the Patriot Act should be just the beginning, not the end. As Congress debates the various Patriot Act fixes in the coming weeks, it should not lose sight of the ball.
These hearings should look beyond the Patriot Act, to the larger picture of civil liberties and the war on terror. After Sept. 11, the government rounded up illegal immigrants, and put hundreds with no ties to terrorism behind bars for months, often in deplorable conditions. The Justice Department's own inspector general found that the government made "little attempt" to distinguish people with ties to terrorism from those without. In conducting this roundup, the Bush administration gave itself far more power than the Patriot Act does. Under the act, aliens are to be held no more than seven days before immigration or criminal charges are brought.
Nor did the Bush administration rely on the Patriot Act for its lawless "enemy combatant" doctrine, the basis for holding American citizens suspected of terrorism indefinitely, without access to family members or lawyers. And the administration now claims that the C.I.A. has the right to secretly transfer suspected terrorists to foreign countries for interrogation. Critics of the process, known as rendition, say it is being used to subject these suspects to torture. The authority for rendition comes not from the Patriot Act, but from a classified directive that President Bush signed shortly after 9/11.
If Congress becomes too bogged down in the minutiae of the Patriot Act in coming weeks, it will be in danger of missing the larger picture. Revising the law should be the start, not the end, of its work.
A Patriot Act fix is just a first step towards reclaiming the rights taken from us in the Administration's War on Terror, a war that failed to make us safer, only less free.
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