Jewish World Review August 27, 2003 / 29 Menachem-Av, 5763
Debra J. Saunders
Liberties for lefties only
How special: Some of the very people who are
attacking the Patriot Act on civil libertarian grounds
are raising questions as to whether Attorney General
John Ashcroft has the right to lobby in its favor.
Here's an idea for a new slogan: Free speech
Ashcroft need not apply.
Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the ranking
Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, wrote
to Ashcroft that speeches he delivered in U.S. cites
to boost the besieged Patriot Act appeared to conflict
with congressional rules regarding "publicity or
propaganda purposes not authorized by Congress."
Conyers objected to Ashcroft's goal of setting the
record straight on the USA Patriot Act that is,
correcting the anti-Patriot Act propaganda and
suggested that Ashcroft "desist from further speaking
engagements" until he could establish that what he
was doing was legit. (DOJ attorneys disagree with
In a press release, the American Civil Liberties Union
"questioned" the Department of Justice's "use of
public money to counter broad public concern about
the expansive surveillance powers of the law."
Note that both Conyers and the ACLU object to
Ashcroft speaking out. If he had agreed with them, if
he were not a dissident on their issue, apparently
there would be no problem.
On Monday, the New York Times editorialized on
Conyers' letter; the editorial failed to speak up for
Ashcroft's right to free speech and instead
concentrated on the Patriot Act as "a deeply flawed
piece of legislation."
Au revoir the hallowed right to be wrong championed
by free speech aficionados.
Adios the public's right to know.
In this case, the public has a right to know what it
doesn't know. Northern California U.S. Attorney Kevin
Ryan said that in talks at law schools and
universities, he has found "a tremendous amount of
confusion" as to what the Patriot Act does and does
For example, Ryan noted, "People don't understand
that prior to the adoption of the Patriot Act, law
enforcement was able to get a grand jury subpoena
to get library records." The Patriot Act requires a
judge's supervision to Ryan, that's tougher.
The idea isn't for the government to find out what
citizens are reading, either. DOJ spokesman Mark
Corallo noted that the measure specifically precludes
investigating citizens "solely on the basis of activities
protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution
of the United States."
"Several of the Sept. 11 hijackers used public library
computers to communicate with each other over the
Internet, and other terrorist allies, and to conduct
research that eventually led to the mass murder of
more than 3,000 innocent Americans," Corallo
added. "I don't think any reasonable person believes
that a public library should be a safe haven for a
Rep. C.L. "Butch" Otter, R-Idaho, sponsored a bill
approved by the House in a 309-118 vote last month
eliminating funding for what are called "sneak and
peek" searches permitted in the Patriot Act, as
authorities can delay informing parties searched.
Has Otter's office seen abuses of "sneak and peak?"
Spokesman Mark Warbis said there was no
particular case or abuse of the law that Otter's office
could cite. Warbis noted that Otter supports many
provisions in the Patriot Act, but, "When it comes to
costitutional rights, he believes he has a
responsibility to be proactive, not wait until he sees
violations, to protect those rights."
OK, but if the law were as egregious as critics
Conyers, Otter and the ACLU suggest, and if it
brought such sweeping changes, you would think
there would be abuses to report.
I'll add that the feds are trying to prevent another
Sept. 11 attack. So you'd think deliberative
lawmakers would wait until abuses were evident
before they rescinded a measure they passed
overwhelmingly. Have they forgotten their goal was to
prevent another Sept. 11?
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