Right Joins Left to Criticize Patriot Act

The opposite ends of the political spectrum are coming together over the war on terror, but not in the way Attorney General John Ashcroft may have wanted.

Some conservative groups are finding common ground with organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, expressing concerns about the effect that the USA Patriot Act and a possible follow-up law, the Domestic Security Enhancement Act, could have on civil liberties.

Liberal critics have directed much of their worry at what they saw as an attack on immigrants' rights in the Patriot Act, the massive measure that was passed as the country was reeling from the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

More than 60 towns, cities and counties around the country have passed resolutions criticizing the act, some going so far as to instruct municipal employees -- including police -- not to assist federal agents in investigations that they believe violate the Constitution.

Now, right-leaning groups such as the American Conservative Union, the Eagle Forum and Gun Owners of America say they are concerned that American citizens could also be victimized by what they say are unconstitutional law enforcement powers allowed by the Patriot and the potential enhancement act.

The heart of the issue, according to conservatives, liberals and constitutional scholars, is the effect that USA Patriot has already had on issues of probable cause and due process, and that both of those concepts would be further eroded if the so-called Patriot II were adopted as it appears in the draft form.

Freedom to Operate

According to what is in the draft, if adopted it would allow the Justice Department to wiretap a person for 15 days without a warrant; federal agents could secretly arrest people and provide no information to their family, the media or their attorney until charges are brought, no matter how long that took; and it would allow the government to strip Americans of their citizenship for even unknowingly helping a group that is connected to an organization deemed to be terrrorist.

It would also make it a crime for people subpoenaed in connection with an investigation being carried out under the Patriot Act to alert Congress to any possible abuses committed by federal agents.

There is also no "sunset provision," which constitutional scholars say removes the element of congressional oversight and means lawmakers would have no way of compelling the Justice Department to prove that the powers provided in the act have not been abused.

"There's no question the government has to have the tools to protect us from terror attacks and to prosecute those who want to harm us," ACU Executive Director Stephen Thayer said.

"But having said that, the American Conservative Union wants to be sure that Congress takes into account the civil liberties of the citizens and through their deliberations reaches the proper balance between law enforcement and protecting citizens' rights," he added.

Christopher Pyle, a former U.S. Army intelligence officer who served on the Church Committee, a Senate select committee that studied government intelligence gathering, put it a bit more forcefully.

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