Oct 20, 2003
President Bush has been pushing Congress to give his administration new powers in the name of stopping terrorism – the so-called "Patriot Act II."
He wants the government to be able to have bail denied for anyone it labels a terrorist – without offering any proof, without having in any way to justify the label.
In other words, the administration wants the right to put in prison and indefinitely hold anyone it chooses, regardless of what they have done – or not done. We can see by the way the Patriot Act I has already been used what this would mean.
Following September 11, the government used the population's fear of terrorism to get the first Patriot Act passed. Within six months of the Act being passed, the Justice Department ran seminars on how to stretch the law, using it against people who had committed no terrorist act, but were accused of ordinary crime – without having to prove anything.
The Bush Administration also used this law, for example, to question people about their political beliefs, whether they opposed the war in Iraq and U.S. policy toward Israel.
"Patriot Act II" would also set up 15 new crimes for which the death penalty could be applied. Included is a provision that says if there is a death as the result of acts which are committed in order to influence the government or the population by intimidation or coercion, the death penalty could be applied. In other words, protesters against the war could be charged – so could strikers. It's happened often enough that a company gets an injunction, and then cops attack a picket line and someone is killed. Under this proposed law, ALL the picketers could be eligible for the death penalty.
Already the government has threatened to charge strikers with "terrorism." Just two months after September 11, the Attorney General of South Carolina accused five South Carolina longshoremen of "terrorism." This followed a clash between 150 picketing longshoremen and 600 armed police.
Finally, Patriot Act II would allow subpoenas without court approval. Now, when the Justice Department wants to get access to records on a terrorist suspect, it goes to a secret court, called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court, before which only the government can appear, and which decides yes or no. If yes, the feds can compel libraries to turn over records of who has asked for certain books, a company that provides Internet service to say all the web sites and email addresses a person has contacted, hospitals to turn over medical records, banks to turn over financial data, and religious and political organizations to turn over membership lists. It is illegal for the organization turning over the information ever to tell anyone what was provided, even if the person investigated was proven to be guilty of no crime. It's obvious these FISA courts offer little protection to people the government wants to prosecute.
But now Bush wants to bypass even the fig leaf of this FISA court. He wants the Justice Department to be able to issue an "administrative subpoena" with absolutely no court looking over its shoulder at all.
No one should believe that any court is a real protection against government repression, much less the FISA court – but the fact the Bush administration wants to do away with even this court tells us a great deal about its intentions.
The Bush Administration wants to be able to arrest people who have committed no crime against other people. For the administration, protesting its wars or carrying out strikes is crime enough.