Jewish World Review June 27, 2005/ 20 Sivan,
The president as head teacher
As our national principal, George W. Bush pledged the day after the
horrendous attacks on Sept. 11: "We will not allow this enemy to win
the war by changing our way of life or restricting our freedoms."
Recently, the president has been repeatedly urging Congress to
retain, intact, the Patriot Act, which soon followed Sept. 11 and
the Justice Department's proposed expansion of that law. In a June 9
speech, he emphasized that the Patriot Act, in "protecting our civil
liberties," provides "the judicial branch with a strong oversight
role." Searches require "strict standards within the Constitution."
There has been considerable dispute, however, as to whether the most
controversial searches under the Patriot Act, and its additions, are
indeed subject to strict judicial oversight. In Section 215, for
example, searches of a wide range of business records, including
medical records, libraries, Internet-surfing and other sources, the
sole authorizing court is the secret Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Court, which has hardly ever denied a government
request for records, including entire databases of institutions.
This rubber-stamping is merely a fig leaf for "judicial
On June 15, the House removed library and bookstore records from
Section 215, but that can be restored in conference committee, and
all other kinds of records will still be subject to search anyway.
I would also direct the president's attention to a dramatic
expansion of the Patriot Act passed in a closed-door session by the
Senate Intelligence Committee on June 6. Supported by Alberto
Gonzales, the head of the Justice Department, and the White House,
this search provision gives the FBI added authority to issue secret
administrative subpoenas for personal records from banks, hotels,
medical offices, gun dealers and other businesses without first
going to a judge not even to the secret Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Court. Previous administrative subpoenas in such areas
as Medicare fraud have been far more limited and specified.
The government says the need for these instant subpoenas, which the
FBI will write for and by itself, is to track suspected terrorists
before they can harm us. But in a previous open hearing of the
Senate Intelligence Committee, Valerie Caproni, the FBI's general
counsel, was asked for evidence that the delay in requiring a
federal judge to permit a search has ever injured national security.
She answered: "Can we show because of delays a bomb went off? No.
But it could happen tomorrow. It could." However, under this
nation's rule of law, the bulwark of our freedoms, revising part of
our Bill of Rights to bypass going to a judge on the basis of what
"could happen" requires more of an explanation from our head teacher
than he has given.
Even Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who has been a persistent
defender of the Patriot Act, was taken aback at that hearing. This
sounds, she said, like "carte blanche authority for (an FBI) fishing
expedition." And former Republican Congressman Bob Barr, now a
privacy expert for the American Conservative Union and the American
Civil Liberties Union, said the proposed legislation "would
essentially render the Fourth Amendment protections against
unreasonable searches and seizures completely meaningless."
As head teacher of our constitutional liberties, has President Bush
forgotten that a precipitating cause of the American Revolution was
the "general search warrant" (writs of assistance), whereby British
customs officials wrote their own search warrants to enter the
colonists' businesses and homes and turn everything upside down,
sometimes including the colonists? These raids were reported by the
Committees of Correspondence throughout the colonies, greatly adding
to their determination to be free of such abuses.
I admire the president's vision of the Liberty Bell of democracy
ringing in other lands. But when it comes to our own civil liberties
to borrow a line from Robert Frost he is "a light ... to no
one but himself." With respect, I wish George W. Bush would
familiarize himself with why the Constitution would not have been
ratified without the addition of the Bill of Rights, and why its
Fourth Amendment is urgently the most specifically detailed of all
these 10 amendments.
The founding Americans wanted to be certain that the British
"general search warrant" would be forever banished from this nation.
Instead, under this bill, you would not even know your records had
been subpoenaed. The institutional record-holder must keep the
search secret on pain of a year in jail or a fine of not more than
$10,000. The record-holder could challenge the subpoena, but would
have hardly any incentive to do so, and, in any case, can't tell you
that you'd been caught in a dragnet.
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