President Bush is pressuring Congress to renew the Patriot Act by highlighting the actions of Ohio police who helped catch a man accused of plotting attacks on the Brooklyn Bridge and a Midwest shopping mall.
Portions of the Patriot Act _ signed into law six weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to catch other terrorists _ are set to expire at the end of the year. The law bolstered FBI surveillance and law-enforcement powers in terror cases, increased use of material witness warrants to hold suspects incommunicado for months and allowed secret proceedings in immigration cases.
Civil liberties groups and privacy advocates say the law undermines freedom. But Bush has said the act has been vital to tracking terrorists and disrupting their plans.
Bush was citing the example of the Iyman Faris case Thursday in his visit to the Ohio Patrol Training Academy in Columbus. Faris, a truck driver from Columbus, acknowledged in court documents that he met Osama bin Laden in 2000 at an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan and provided operatives there with sleeping bags, cell phones and other assistance.
Later, Faris received attack instructions from top terror leader Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, authorities said, for what they suggested might have been a second wave planned for New York and Washington to follow the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The authorities said he investigated the possibility of using a gas cutter to burn through the Brooklyn Bridge’s suspension cables and plotted with a Somali immigrant to blow up an identified central Ohio shopping mall.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the academy that Bush is visiting is a part of the joint terrorism task force that investigated the case. Faris pleaded guilty to charges of aiding and abetting terrorism and conspiracy in 2003 and is serving a 20-year prison sentence.
McClellan said investigators relied on powers in the Patriot Act to follow Faris after his travels to Afghanistan. “Once he was confronted with the evidence against him, he cooperated and provided valuable information to law enforcement authorities,” McClellan said.
Bush said Wednesday that the Patriot Act gives authorities the tools they need to fight terror and communicate with those who collect intelligence.
“We’ve got to do everything we can to protect the homeland,” Bush told the Associated Builders and Contractors at their conference in Washington. “And we are. We’re doing a better job of collecting and analyzing intelligence and sharing intelligence.”
Some critics of the Patriot Act have called for tempering its provisions that let police conduct secret searches of people’s homes or businesses. However, defenders of the law say no abuses have been documented, so it should be renewed intact.
The Bush administration wants Congress to make permanent all 15 provisions of the law that would otherwise expire at the end of the year, despite civil liberties concerns raised by conservatives as well as liberals.
Sens. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., recently told the Senate Judiciary Committee that while they cannot document any specific abuses, the law is written in a way that could allow abuses. The two are jointly pushing a bill that would scale back some of its powers.
“We do not want to end the Patriot Act. We want to mend the Patriot Act,” Durbin said.
Lisa Graves, the ACLU’s senior counsel for legislative strategy, said the lack of a documented case of abuse doesn’t mean the law doesn’t violate civil liberties. She said the Justice Department’s inspector general reported that 7,000 people have complained of abuse and countless others don’t even know they’ve been subjected to a search because the law requires that the searches be kept secret.
“The real problem is that these record searches take place behind closed doors and are kept secret forever,” she said. Graves said the ACLU wants the government to show evidence of a connection to terrorist activity before being allowed to search records.
McClellan said more than 100 law enforcement officers were expected at Bush’s speech in Columbus. He said Bush would remind Americans that they must remain vigilant against terrorist threats.
“The threats that we face in this country are real and that we are dealing with an enemy that is patient and that is hoping that we will let our guard down and get complacent,” McClellan said.
On the Net:
White House: http://www.whitehouse.gov
Justice Department: http://www.usdoj.gov