American Anti-Terrorism legislation

Anti-terrorism Bill in US Legislature

It took the two houses of the US Legislature less that 72 hours to approve 1,016 sections and over 2,000 pages of the “Patriot Act,” the most sweeping anti-terrorist legislation in memory. This bill is a generalized attack on the civil liberties of all Americans, particularly immigrants. It renders the Bill of Rights obsolete, gives dictatorial powers to the Executive Branch at the expense of the Judicial Branch, and virtually militarizes entire sections of the health care, banking and financial industries. The bill also authorizes tripling border patrols, hundreds of millions of dollars to setup the infrastructure for Tom Ridge’s Office of Homeland Security, and opens the road for Executive Orders to authorize additional billions of dollars.

“These new and unchecked powers could be used against American citizens who are not under criminal investigation, immigrants who are here within our borders legally and also against those whose First Amendment activities are deemed to be threats to national security by the Attorney General,” said Gregory T. Nojeim, Associate Director of the ACLU’s Washington National Office.

“In past times of tragedy and fear, our government has harassed, investigated and arrested people solely because of their race, religion, national origin, speech or political beliefs,” the ACLU said. “We must not allow that to happen again, even as we work together to protect ourselves from future terrorist attacks.”

The Weapons of the War on Civil Liberties

The Patriot Act:

Permits the Attorney General to incarcerate or detain non-citizens for as long as 7 days on suspicion alone, and to deny non-citizens (including lawful permanent residents) readmission to the United States for engaging in speech protected by the First Amendment. This section of the Bill is so broadly written as to include immigrant rights activists speaking up against attacks against Muslims and Arabs or political dissidents. This section of the Patriot Act effectively renders Habeas Corpus and the equal treatment under the law a thing of the past.

Minimizes judicial supervision of law enforcement authorities’ surveillance of telephone and Internet use in anti-terrorism investigations, as well as criminal investigations unrelated to terrorism. The authorization allows investigation not only of who users communicate with, but which web pages they access. The Bill authorizes the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to wiretap all telephones used by any suspect without further authorization from the judiciary, granting them the right to eavesdrop on tens of thousands of peoples’ conversations in a single case, investigating a single suspect.

Expands the government’s ability to conduct secret searches, again in anti-terrorism investigations, as well as criminal investigations unrelated to terrorism. This authorization gives law enforcement agencies the right to search suspects without informing them or their representatives. The authorization also gives police the right to seize property in such searches without informing their owners.

Gives the Attorney General and the Secretary of State the power to designate domestic groups as terrorist organizations and block any non-citizen belonging to them from entering the country. Under this provision, payment of dues is an offense that could result in the deportation of the offender. The definition under which such a list could be compiled is so broad that, according to the ACLU, it could include organizations engaged in legitimate direct action or civil disobedience, such as animal rights groups. Months before the September 11 attacks, left organizations and anti-globalization groups were linked to terrorism in a document submitted to Congress by the FBI.

Grants the FBI broad access to sensitive medical, financial, mental health, and educational records without evidence of a crime or a court order. It also gives law enforcement agencies executive authority over areas such as stockpiling and administration of vaccines, medications and certain areas of medical treatment.

Clears the way for large-scale investigations of American citizens for “intelligence” purposes and the use of intelligence authorities to by-pass probable cause requirements in criminal cases.

Puts the CIA and other intelligence agencies back into the business of spying on Americans. It does this by giving the Director of Central Intelligence authority to identify priority targets for intelligence surveillance in the United States.

Allows searches of personal financial records without notice or judicial review based on a standard that does not require probable cause of a crime or even relevancy to an ongoing terrorism investigation. This includes businesses, but also charities, non-profits and potentially political organizations.

Allows student records to be searched based on a very low standard of relevancy to an investigation.

Creates a broad new definition of “domestic terrorism” that could include people who engage in acts of political protest and subjects them to wiretapping and enhanced penalties.

Allows law enforcement agencies broad control over financial and stock operations to force financial institutions to provide any information requested without the burden, in most cases, of a judicial order. This is allegedly to prevent money laundering.

Allows law enforcement agencies to break the barrier between police agencies and the judiciary. It does this by allowing access to all details of any investigation or documents in the possession of grand juries, a separation of function considered sacred by civil libertarians.

Full text on this battle plan against civil liberties can be read at:

Patriot Act

Approved in the Shadows, without Debate

On Wednesday, October 24 the US House of Representatives passed the US Patriot Act (HR3162) by 357-66 votes. 24 hours later the bill breezed by the Senate (98-1). President Bush quickly signed it into law on Friday, October 26.

According to the ACLU, the 72 hour process through which the bill passed “[was] terribly flawed.” According to the ACLU’s Laura Murphy, the House voted on legislation that representatives had not had opportunity to read. House offices were closed, and staff could not access their papers to fully prepare members of Congress for this critical vote.

Murphy urgently wrote to representatives, stating that the bill that was, “coming to the House floor that bears little resemblance to the significantly modified version of the bill unanimously adopted by the House Judiciary Committee on October 3, 2001. No conference committee met to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. Regular order is being rejected and it is an offense to the thoughtful legislative procedures necessary to protect the Constitution and Bill of Rights at a time when the rights of so many Americans are being jeopardized.”

In fact, both the House and US Senate suspended all the parliamentary rules that would have allowed them to debate, amend or present testimony on the Patriot Act. Only a few Senators and their employees worked on the final text, and they only discussed it with a few big business lobbyists, particularly from the airlines, who convinced them to scrap the sections dealing with airport security.

The airlines successfully lobbied Congress not to include the sections making them pay the cost of federalizing bag screeners and security personnel. One airline executive was quoted saying that he, “opposed the idea of having a Federal work force with mandatory unionization and high wages,” at the expense of businesses.

Ready to Battle

“This government will enforce this law with all the urgency of a nation at war.”-George W. Bush at signing ceremony of the US Patriot Act, October 26, 2001.

In his speech to the US Conference of Mayors, on October 24, Attorney General John Ashcroft vowed that the, “hour that [the anti-terrorism bill] becomes law, I will issue guidance to each of our 94 U.S. Attorney’s Offices and 56 FBI field offices directing them to begin immediately implementing this sweeping legislation.” He said that passage of the bill would open a “law enforcement campaign.”

Even before the Patriot Act was passed, law enforcement “task forces” conducted thousands of raids netting around 1,000 detainees (according to the government). These people are still waiting for an explanation for their arrest after weeks of detention. Therefore, Ashcroft’s comments to the Conference of Mayors signals the onset of a massive dragnet that, as the ACLU put it, will entrap thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of innocent people.

In these expectations for the near future, we merely present the immediate results of strict application of the Patriot Act. We do not exclude the likelihood of abuses of power widespread racist profiling, or mistakes committed by law enforcement and financial, banking, Internet and telephone businesses in the process of going after citizens. These “aberrations” (really business as usual) are protected by the Patriot Act in sweeping immunity clauses, thus transforming the abovementioned likelihood into an inevitability. The law also specifically excludes suing the government for the application of these new laws in any court other than US Courts, and this only after long, administrative complaints are filed and processed by the same agencies that potentially committed the abuses.

Widespread Surrender to Wave of Reaction

While the ACLU and other civil liberties organizations raised serious objections to segments of the Patriot Bill, they only threatened Congress with “monitoring” its application. No plans to challenge the new legislation in Courts were announced. Moreover, the ACLU declared that it “agrees with many portions of the bill,” and only wants to reform those chapters that it deems abusive.

While 66 US Representatives voted against the Patriot Act, the only US Senator to oppose it was Russ Feingold. The opposition in the House, while significant, did not mount any serious opposition to the bill’s passage. No speeches, no great and dramatic gestures, just shy expressions of surprise or claims of ignorance. About a dozen of the legislators opposing the Patriot Bill said they did so because they didn’t have time to even read the Summary of the new law. Others expressed opposition to specific points, like overbearing Internet controls or the “money laundering” monitoring.

As of this writing, not a single legislator, not even in the most liberal wing of the Democratic Party, had organized a press conference to clarify their opposition to the Patriot Act. Not one legislator spoke in defense of immigrants throughout the whole process of approving the law. The Patriot Act, as appeasement to potential critics and to soothe more than one of the consciences of the 40 or so liberals who voted for it, contains a declaration against discrimination towards Arabs and Muslims (without any enforcement clause) and a “Sunset” clause, the message being that the law needs to be re-affirmed in four years.

It will be the anti-war, labor, peace, and organizations from communities of color who will bear the brunt of this new law’s application. They should be at the forefront of organizing resistance to it, demanding its repeal and challenging its implementation.

From challenging its constitutionality in court to pressuring legislators and public officials to stand against its implementation, every avenue should be pursued to stop this war on our civil liberties. But it will be the mobilization in the streets and in workplaces and communities across the country that will force a retreat on this, the most fundamental undermining of our democratic rights. Without marching together and defending all those who will come under attack , this legislation will be quickly turned against labor unions, immigrant rights organizers, the anti-globalization movement, and left organizations.

Other articles from the November issue of Socialist Alternative, can be found at the documents section of this site.