Ashcroft Tells Congress That Expanded Powers Needed; ACLU Says PATRIOT II Likely a Political Non-Starter

June 5, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — Responding to testimony from Attorney General John Ashcroft this morning before the House Judiciary Committee that suggested that a successor to the highly controversial USA PATRIOT surveillance bill would be forthcoming, the American Civil Liberties Union today said that such an expansion of power would be unacceptable under the Constitution and likely be politically unpopular given the Attorney General’s consistent failure to adequately explain and defend the need for his current extraordinary powers.

“There is no evidence that Congress has any appetite for granting the Attorney General any expansion of the already extraordinary powers given him under the USA PATRIOT Act, particularly since he has not properly explained how the Department of Justice is using the powers it was given after the attacks of 9/11,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington National Office.

“The Inspector General’s report on 9/11 detainee abuses, the nation-wide grassroots city council resolution campaign in favor of civil liberties, even the Attorney General’s own admission this morning of inadequate consultation with Congress when implementing policies that infringe on rights, point to the danger of a PATRIOT II bill,” Murphy added. “We will continue to work with Members from both sides of the aisle and with groups across the political spectrum to ensure that PATRIOT II remains nothing more than a gleam in Mr. Ashcroft’s eyes.”

At the hearing this morning, the Attorney General asserted, without explanation, that the USA PATRIOT Act has been “invaluable” and suggested to members of the committee that, in fact, he would soon be requesting new, broader powers. Specifically, those powers would include expansions of the offense of material support for terrorism, which under overbroad definitions of terrorism in the original PATRIOT Act, could be applied to political protesters; broader applicability of the death penalty, and an expansion of presumptive, pre-trial detention, which turns our justice system on its head and requires defendants to prove their innocence before they even come to a trial. The Justice Department’s own Inspector General just this week was highly critical of the department for overuse of presumptive detention.

Earlier this year, draft legislation that included these powers, among many others, was leaked to the press and met immediate denouncement from all sides of the political spectrum. Even House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) suggested at the time that there was no real enthusiasm to further expand the already vast powers of the federal government.

Yesterday, the ACLU released an analysis of the Justice Department’s answers to written questions submitted to the agency by Rep. Sensenbrenner and Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI), which details federal law enforcement’s continued dismissal of civil liberties concerns.

The ACLU’s interested persons memo on the Sensenbrenner-Conyers disclosures can be found at:

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