I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Propaganda about the Patriot Act

John at Powerline has a post up about the Patriot Act which can only be described as being full of falsehoods. The Patriot Act is one of those issues which, due to its complexity and legalistic nature, is susceptible to being propagandized, and deceivers like John have long been doing exactly that. The Patriot Act was borne of this sort of propaganda, beginning with its creepy, Orwellian name, followed by the virtual unanimity with which it was enacted by a Senate which did not even have time to read it.

The first falsehood spewed out by John is found in the first sentence of his post:

Senate Democrats say they will launch a filibuster to prevent the extension of the Patriot Act, which expires at the end of the year. . . . We've come a long way, obviously, since 2001, and the Democrats appear to be betting on the popularity of their antiwar position.

The idea here is, as usual, to make it appear that Democrats are trying to advance their standard subversive, pro-terrorist agenda, with their traitorous weapon of choice this time being their opposition to the Patriot Act.

The only problem with this statement is that it's false, because there is great discomfort with multiple provisions of the Patriot Act among substantial numbers of civil liberty-minded Republicans, several of whom have already pledged to support a filibuster. The very Washington Times article which John cites to makes this abundantly clear:

Four Republicans -- Sens. John E. Sununu of New Hampshire, Larry E. Craig of Idaho, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska -- said yesterday that they will join Democrats in opposing the legislation, even helping block a final vote on its passage.

Well beyond these four GOP Senators, there is a contingent of the conservative wing of the Republican Party which is quite libertarian and they are very bothered by several of the more intrusive provisions of the Patriot Act. From hard-core conservative ideologue Bob Barr to long-time conservative activist Paul Weyrich, conservatives have been, along with Democrats like Feingold, in the forefront of opposing renewal (or favoring repeal) of certain provisions of the Patriot Act.

Here is Weyrich and American Conservative Union Chairman David Keene:

Increasingly, conservatives we talk to outside Washington express real concern about providing Federal law enforcement with more power in the name of national security. They fear that the "tools" the government seeks to protect us from our enemies could eventually be used to circumscribe our own liberties. Given the maneuvering over H.R. 3179 [the legislation for renewal of the Patriot Act], they have good reason for concern.

This should not come as a surprise. Although most conservatives have forgotten it ever since they took over control of the Federal Government, distrust of the Federal Government and a desire to limit its powers have long been central tenets of conservatism. Conservatives certainly seemed to remember these anti-federal-government principles when it was Janet Reno who running the Justice Department, but, to their eternal shame, they quickly discarded those "principles" when John Ashcroft assumed the reins, at which point the Federal Government couldn't have enough power.

There are, however, still some principled conservatives around who realize that conservatives won't always be running the Federal Government and who therefore still adhere to their principles concerning the limitations on federal police power (which just also happens to be one of the most central precepts on which our country was founded; indeed, a limited Federal Government was one of the Founder's most important promises made in order to extract the states' consent to the formation of the United States). The notion peddled by John that opposition to the Patriot Act is a Democratic anti-war phenomenon is just a deliberate and transparent falsehood.

John's next egregiously false claim comes in the second sentence of his post:

If they are successful, a wall between intelligence and law enforcement agencies will once again prevent them from sharing information about terrorist activities within the U.S.

This is rank deceit. The opponents of full-scale renewal of the Patriot Act have repeatedly stated as clearly as something can be stated that there are numerous provisions of the Patriot Act which are desirable and necessary, including the provisions enabling law enforcement agencies to share information.

Sen. Russ Feingold is the face of the Democratic opposition to the Patriot Act, as he -- to his everlasting credit -- was the only one of 100 U.S. Senators who withstood the intense pressure to vote for the Patriot Act while the World Trade Center was still laying in rubble in downtown Manhattan. This is what Feingold himself said about the Patriot Act this week when explaining his intent to filibuster:

Often proponents of the Patriot Act respond to critics by pointing to non-controversial provisions that I support, like those that helped to facilitate information sharing between law enforcement and intelligence agents as proof of why the Patriot Act is so valuable. I agree that the Patriot Act contains important provisions, and no one is arguing that they should be allowed to expire or even that they should be subject to a new sunset provision.

The filibuster isn't about eliminating the information-sharing provisions which John is falsely claiming will be repealed if the filibuster proponents prevail. Even Patriot Act opponents want those provisions, which is why they included them in the version of the bill which they favor.

Saying that these filibuster proponents want to eliminate these provisions, when the opposite is so plainly true, can't really be described as anything other than making false assertions for the purpose of distorting someone's viewpoint.

The provisions which are being targeted by those fighting against renewal of the Act include those authorizing the FBI to obtain quite personal and confidential records about any American citizen, whether they are suspected of terrorist activities or not, and without even having to obtain judicial approval, simply by asserting that the records are "sought for" a terrorist investigation. Also objected to is the provision which drastically expanded the power and scope of the odious National Security Letters which have been used to with startling frequency and in truly disturbing ways since the Act's enactment.

There is a real debate to be had about how much power the Federal Government should be entrusted with in order to investigate Americans and visitors to the U.S., as well as what the proper balance is between our need for heightened security against terrorism and our desire to preserve basic civil liberties. But proponents of the Patriot Act have never demonstrated any desire to have that debate, opting instead for propaganda, falsehoods and deliberate issue distortions of the type dripping out of John's post.

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