Debate Heats Up Over 'Sunsetting' Parts of Patriot Act

Talat Hamdani wears her feelings about the need to keep America safe from terrorism on her chest -- in a pin bearing a photograph of her son looking proud in his New York City police cadet's uniform.

Mohammed Salman Hamdani disappeared on Sept. 11, 2001, and -- even though he was a part-time EMT and training to be a police officer -- there soon were media reports that he was being investigated for suspected involvement in the attacks.

Hamdani, who said she and her husband came to America from Pakistan in 1979 "in search of the American dream," tried for months to get information about whether her son was dead or alive, if he was in custody or had even possibly gone into hiding.

Finally, in March 2002 she was told that his remains had been identified at Ground Zero, and in April he was given a hero's funeral by the city.

A Son Who Became Part of the Patriot Act

What Hamdani did not know was that just 45 days after Sept. 11, her son's bravery had been written into controversial legislation passed by Congress.

The final text of the USA Patriot Act, the sweeping legislation presented by the Bush administration as necessary measures to keep America safe from future terrorist attacks, referred to her son in the first few pages -- not as a suspected terrorist, but as an example of why it was wrong to look at all Muslims as terrorists.

"Many Arab Americans and Muslim Americans have acted heroically during the attacks on the United States, including Mohammed Salman Hamdani, a 23-year-old New Yorker of Pakistani descent, who is believed to have gone to the World Trade Center to offer rescue assistance and is now missing," reads Section 102 of the legislation.

Almost four years after losing her son, Hamdani remembers the accusations against him, and now she is speaking out against the legislation that contains his name.

"The reason he was accused of being a terrorist is that his first name is Mohammed," she said at a recent meeting in New York City organized by civil liberties groups. Participants planned activities designed to convince Congress not to renew sections of the Patriot Act that are set to expire at the end of the year, and to toss out other sections of the sweeping law. The gathering was one of dozens held around the country as civil liberties groups gear up to push Congress over the act.

"I know this subject from both sides," Hamdani, a member of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, said at the meeting, which was held at the offices of the New York Civil Liberties Union and the New York Bill of Rights Defense Campaign, just blocks away from Ground Zero. "I know the fear of the American people that this was done by Muslims, but not every Muslim is a terrorist."

Hamdani said she feels the Patriot Act has been used against Muslims in the United States, but other opponents of the measure say it affects every American.

The concerns of the New York Bill of Rights Defense Campaign, the ACLU and other civil liberties groups across the political spectrum mostly have to do with the way the Patriot Act strengthens the powers of the executive branch, allows law enforcement to act with greater secrecy and fewer judicial restraints, and vaguely defines some of its terms, such as what is meant by domestic terrorist threats.

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