- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2003

More Democrats are charging that President Bush and the Republicans are using the war on terrorism as an excuse to deprive Americans of civil rights and civil liberties, the latest development in a series of attacks aimed at the president’s pursuit of war in Iraq.

In the past few days, the Bush administration has been accused of abusing civil rights by former Vice President Al Gore, presidential hopeful Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle.

“They have taken us much farther down the road toward an intrusive, ‘Big Brother’-style government — toward the dangers prophesied by George Orwell in his book ‘1984’ — than anyone ever thought would be possible in the United States of America,” Mr. Gore said Sunday in a speech sponsored by MoveOn.org and the American Constitution Society.

The administration’s weapon of choice against civil rights is the Patriot Act, overwhelmingly passed by Congress after September 11, Mr. Gore and other Democrats say.

Republicans said such charges are the Democrats’ latest attempt to find an attack plan that will stick to the administration, after salvos over Iraq, the economy and jobs.

“Their default position is attack, attack, attack,” said Christine Iverson, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.

“They attack the economy, they attack the war in Iraq, they attack the Patriot Act. In lieu of any positive agenda of their own, they’re forced to attack. And apparently, this is the week they all come out and receive their talking points on the Patriot Act,” she said.

With positive economic news, including a 7.2 percent economic-growth rate and 250,000 new jobs in the past quarter, Republicans are hoping that Democrats have lost another issue they had counted on to thwart Mr. Bush’s re-election.

Republicans said Democrats lost one issue last week with the surfacing of a memo written by a Democratic staffer on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The memo laid out how a political agenda against the president could be furthered by the committee, which is known for being nonpartisan.

The memo undercuts many Democrats who have accused the White House of leaking the name of a CIA operative over the summer, a Senate Republican aide said,

But Mr. Gore called the memo “a trivial political dispute,” and Democrats said they still see plenty of options for criticism of the president across the board.

“All the issues are still on the table, from the president not funding his own No Child Left Behind [education bill] to there still being the loss of 3 million jobs on this president’s watch,” said Tony Welch, spokesman for the Democratic National Committee. “I think this president has gotten in trouble before after he’s only won the first quarter.”

Some Democrats are highlighting that last point.

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, announced that his presidential campaign today will begin running a television ad showing Mr. Bush six months ago on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, under the banner “Mission Accomplished,” where he declared an end to major combat in Iraq.

Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said yesterday on NBC’s “Today” that Republicans are pursuing a campaign against civil liberties “to bolster their standing in the polls, to bolster their political support around the country.”

“They used these devices, I think, to a certain extent, to intimidate people; to recognize, I think, that perhaps using this as a vehicle was a way to enhance their own standing,” Mr. Daschle said.

Mr. Edwards, speaking Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said although he supports portions of the Patriot Act, he thinks it should be revised.

“For example, we are now allowing sneak-and-peek searches without notice to the person who is being searched, in my view without adequate due process safeguards in place,” said Mr. Edwards, a lawyer by profession.

“The same thing is true … about the ability to go into libraries and bookstores without, and again in my judgment, adequate procedural safeguards in place,” he said.

The Patriot Act expanded law enforcement’s authority to use wiretaps, searches and surveillance to battle terrorism and other crimes. It also made it easier for the government to detain terror suspects without trial.

Asked about the criticisms, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan noted that the Patriot Act passed with “overwhelming bipartisan support” — 98-1 in the Senate and 356-66 in the House. Mr. Daschle, Mr. Edwards and Mr. Kerry voted for the bill.

Mr. McClellan said the law is being used appropriately.

“The action that the president is taking in the war on terrorism is about making the world a safer and better place and making America more secure,” he said.

Jonathan Grella, spokesman for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said Democrats’ charges on civil liberties are an attempt to play to their base. He singled out MoveOn.org, which began as a pro-Clinton, anti-impeachment Web site and evolved into a barometer of opinion among liberal activists.

“They should call it ‘can’t-move-on-dot-org’ — can’t get over the recount, recall or redistricting and the past few elections,” Mr. Grella said.

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