- The Washington Times - Monday, October 20, 2003

The Senate Judiciary Committee will begin a series of oversight hearings today to determine whether federal laws are adequate to prevent and respond to acts of terrorism, and if the USA Patriot Act harms security, privacy and civil liberties.

Sought by committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, and the panel’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the hearing will target the effectiveness of laws aimed at protecting America and focus on concerns over whether the Patriot Act violates principles of free speech, due process and equal protection under the law.

The scheduled witnesses are Assistant Attorney General Christopher Wray, who heads the Justice Department’s criminal division; U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald of Illinois; and U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty of Virginia.

President Bush has vigorously supported the act, calling for expanded Justice Department authority to eliminate “unreasonable obstacles to investigating and prosecuting terrorism.”

He wants the act expanded to include administrative subpoenas without prior grand jury review; the ability to hold accused terrorists without bail; and expand the scope of the federal death penalty in terrorism cases.

Enacted after September 11 to broaden investigative powers, the act has been criticized by federal, state and local lawmakers and has been the subject of lawsuits by civil liberties advocates.

Some Democratic and Republican members of Congress, the National Rifle Association, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and others assert that the act allows government to invade people’s private lives.

It also has prompted numerous complaints from citizens and others who say it exploits post-September 11 terrorism fears. More than 165 communities representing 16 million people in 26 states have passed resolutions condemning the act.

Attorney General John Ashcroft has defended the Patriot Act as a “necessary and effective tool” in combating terrorists. He recently told reporters that a majority of Americans believe the law is necessary to guard against terrorist threats and 91 percent of Americans understand the act has not affected their civil rights.

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III told a Senate committee the act has made the bureau more effective by facilitating information-sharing “within the law enforcement and intelligence communities.”

Before its passage, he said, FBI agents were “walled off from intelligence investigations.”

“We will launch a rigorous, bipartisan examination of the issues Americans are concerned about when it comes to combating terrorism,” said Mr. Hatch, a vocal proponent of the Patriot Act.

“We’re going to cut through the confusion and distortion and get the facts necessary to find out if we are we protecting both our citizens’ lives and their liberties.”

Mr. Leahy, who worked closely with the Bush administration in the negotiations that produced the Patriot Act, has said the legislation “far more than most” required close congressional oversight.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide