The PATRIOT act of 2001 creates mixed emotions in America

By Gus Bode

Sweeping new legislation a impacts citizens, immigrants

It is all encompassing, affecting the American citizen and the naturalized immigrant. It allows federal and local law enforcement unprecedented legal access to everything Americans hold scared. From e-mails to messages left on answering machines, all are presumptions of guilt.

Passed in an expeditious amount of time-six weeks- it was America’s response to unprovoked evil.

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The world stopped that Tuesday morning, and gawked. In pure awe, Americans across the nation stared aghast and unbelieving at their televisions. The events of the day would become pictures frozen in time.

Crowds in Time Square stared into the sky.

The teaming masses of people as they escaped a plume of smoke and crashing debris by crossing the Brooklyn Bridge by foot.

Broken glass and melting facades of buildings came crashing down to earth.

As one of the most famous cities in the world turned into a war zone.

America had been deceived by religious zealots from within and the cost was 3,000 lives and two of New York City’s most prominent members of its landscape –the World Trade Center Buildings.

Calculated, and timed in unison, 19 terrorists with box cutters turned four airplanes into missiles, creating havoc on the world’s financial capital. Politicians tried to respond to the impending fear and doom. Airplanes across the country were rerouted back to the closest airports. Airspace in New York City was sealed for the first time in history.

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And in Washington, D.C., President George W. Bush and Vice President Cheney were being carted off in secret to undisclosed locations. As the day would wind to a close, the crashes were no accidents but works of a skilled and impenetrable system of global extremists working to destroy the financial capital as well as the political capital of the United States.

The answer, according to Bush, was the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001, or simply the USA PATRIOT ACT, sweeping new legislation.

Shortly after the announcement of the new laws came the military order of Nov. 13, 2001, were trials of any suspected terrorist were to be held not by a jury of their peers as constituted under the Fourth Amendment but military hearings. Trials where the suspect could be uninformed about the charges and their lawyers left to hear charges against their clients for the first time in court.

“I have determined that an extraordinary emergency exists for national defense purposes, that this emergency constitutes an urgent and compelling government interest, and that issuance of this order is necessary to meet the emergency,” Bush said.

Secret hearings involving criminal activity and suspected coercion are in contradiction to the constitution’s Sixth Amendment guarantee of a fair trail among a jury of your peers. Only in the military have private closed-hearing tribunals ever been practiced, and with the overarching portion of court proceedings and cases being made unavailable to the public, some Americans and civil libertarians are finding it hard to believe that these are leading to arrests of viable suspects.

“Well it is hard to say if it has had an positive impact on our safety because we will never know the things that were done, by various governmental agencies and to whom they have been done,” said John Jackson. “I don’t think there is any doubt that it has had a chilling effect on civil liberties and certainly frightened individuals and groups who are concerned about its application.”

Director of the Public Policy Institute and former U.S. Sen. Paul Simon said the act is in danger of becoming a politically regrettable move on the part of a scared nation.

“In every emergency that a nation faces, there are always people who want to do away with basic civil liberties, and when we look back on it years later we are embarrassed by what we did,” Simon said. “Obviously we want to do what we can to stop terrorism, but we have to remember what we stand for — not only what we are against.

“We have to protect are basic civil liberties.”

Congress’ ease at passing the act, during the time of a national crisis also calls into question the ability of congressmen and congresswomen to provide accurate and safe protection for all American citizens, and this has caused Jackson the most worry.

“The ease with which Congress passed it, with little debate and little examination of its implications for the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, it illustrates the mass hysteria that was evident at that time,” he said.

Jackson said it is typical of the federal government to make heat-of-the-moment decisions after a national calamity like the 9/11 disaster.

“In many ways it is comparable to what we did to the Japanese, at the point of Pearl Harbor,” he said. “The hysteria of the moment caused the government to trample their civil rights and I think that a certain amount of that has happened.”

Instead of the mass round-ups that were employed in the Japanese Interments of the World War II era, the Justice Department has engaged in “preventative detentions.” Preventative detentions enable the government to arrest and then later charge suspects with crimes, if they are indeed guilty of breaking the law.

Being reactionary in the political progress has Simon doubting the potential security of the sweeping new powers the Justice Department now wields.

“A free country cannot be 100 percent secure,” he said. “We are going to have to take some risks. You take a small risk no matter what you do.

“We have to use common sense and keep our eyes focused on what we have to stop.”

And with the federal government, including the Justice Department, mounting a public relations tour of the act, Jackson said that the government and the restrictive measures it has put on citizens has turned into cries of unrest, calling for governmental reasoning.

“It illustrates that they are concerned about the level of erosion and support particularly when their own supporters from the conservative end of the spectrum are complaining about the act,” Jackson said.

The American Civil Liberties Union has protested the provisions of the act since its conception, calling into question the reasoning as well as the ease at which the government has been able to justify mass detentions of Arab and South Asian men.

Ed Yonhka, director of press relations at the Illinois chapter of the ACLU, said the federal government is operating on procedures that are overly broad and intrusive.

“It goes so far as to break with tradition. It allows intrusive investigations to take place not of people who are suspects, and who are suspected of terrorism, but virtually everyone can now be a target of investigation,” he said. “For one thing the Patriot Act’s definition of terrorism is so overly broad and expansive that it includes not only groups such as Al-Qaeda but groups like Green Peace or Operation Rescue.

“Who gets investigated becomes a issue.”

Interventionism, as prescribed by the act, allows for greater access to electronic surveillance and no need for probable cause — the information only needs to be sought in an investigation. Yonhka said that does not meet probable cause standards.

“That allows law enforcement officials the ability to go on fishing expeditions into the peoples’ records and life,” he said, “when they aren’t really suspected of doing anything illegal or being involved in a conspiracy.

“There are people and groups out there that feel they are being specifically targeted.”

On Nov. 29, 2001, the New York Times reported an estimated 1,200 detainees were being held in various detention centers throughout the Northeast, and of those, “only a handful had Al-Qaeda links.” The Government officially told the Washington Post 20 days earlier that it would stop releasing the tallies of suspected detainees.

“The reason we don’t know the precise number is because the Department of Justice won’t tell us the number,” Yonhka said. “They have decided that keeping people secretly detained is an appropriate activity a free and open society.”

Yonhka said not one of those people who were detained in the initial round-up after 9/11 were ever charged with terrorism or conspiracy to commit terrorism.

“Many of these individuals were detained in conditions that do not live up to the American ideal of how we should treat people. Some were sometimes physically and verbally abused.”

The problem with detaining people before they could have a chance to commit crimes or pose a particular threat led to wrongful detentions of law-abiding immigrants, Yonhka said.

Detentions can be for undisclosed amounts of time lasting from seven days to a year. Cindy Buys, a SIUC professor who specializes in immigration law, said the government used to have tell an immigrant of the charges bought against him within seven days of detention. But the USA PATRIOT ACT allows detentions without evidence made clear to the immigrant.

“They can basically hold terrorists for unlimited times,” Buys said. “Part of the problem with this is that the Justice Department claims that this information is sensitive and confidential and they cannot disclose it. But that leaves the immigrant in limbo because they do not have access to what they have been accused of and don’t have access to all the information.”

In the coming weeks and months after the attacks, the White House under the approval of the president would budget $5.9 billion to defend the nation against biological terrorism, an increase of $4.5 billion — or 319 percent — from the 2002 level. The Department of Homeland Security would be formed, and the inclusion of several departments into one large bureaucratic machine would begin to churn away at the obliteration of terrorism.

And behind the appointments of officials and the ground breaking of a department to encompass all factors of the war on terrorism was a piece of legislation that would change the political and social landscape of the country. The USA PATRIOT ACT of 2001, 342-pages long, was approved by the Senate by a vote of 98-1; Senator Russ Feingold cast the only vote against the law.

“We must continue to respect our Constitution and protect our civil liberties in the wake of the attacks. As the chairman of the Constitution Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee, I recognize that this is a different world with different technologies, different issues, and different threats,” Feingold said as he addressed senators on the floor of the Senate on Oct. 25, 2001. “Yet we must examine every item that is proposed in response to these events to be sure we are not rewarding these terrorists and weakening ourselves by giving up the cherished freedoms that they seek to destroy.”

A blow to many who felt the need for hearings of suspected terrorist to be held in the open and made public, the federal government had decided such matters, because of the sensitivity to U.S. security, would become closed hearings intended for the ears of military personnel.

Documents would be sealed and defense lawyers denied some of their procedural rights.

“The PATRIOT ACT standing alone does not operate by itself. The President issued an order on Nov. 13, allowing military tribunals, and that contributed as well,” Buys said. “Those two acting together changed the landscape for immigrants.”

The PATRIOT ACT provisions have been incorporated into the Immigration and Nationality Act, leaving many legal scholars questioning the meaning of the act.

“What does it mean to aid and abet a terrorist organization?” she questioned.

Abetting a terrorist organization according tot the statues of the law includes knowing and not knowing you were contributing to such a group.

The wording within the law switched the burden of proof. Prior to the law, the government had to prove that an immigrant or citizen was providing aid to a terrorist organization knowingly. Now the presumptions are reversed and an alien must prove the negative, which he or she did not know. The assumption of guilt is upon the immigrant.

Another provision in the law expanded what it means to engage in criminal activity. Immigrants are already denied from engaging in terrorist activity, which is a deportable offense.

“If an immigrant abuses his or her position of prominence within any country to endorse or espouse terrorist activity or persuade others to do so they can be prohibited from coming to the United States or kicked out of the United States,” Buys said. “Some legal scholars have said that goes too far because it punishes people for pure speech not connected to incitement of violence.

“If they say for example ‘I agree with some of the goals of Hamas’ that will prevent them from coming to the United States, even though our constitution generally protects freedom of speech.”

Expanding the provision to include what American citizens hold as First Amendment rights raises the question of whether immigrants should be allowed constitutional rights once on U.S. soil.

Some cases concerning the constitutional rights of immigrants have been written to any persons, but in other cases, it has been made clear that it is referring to citizens, creating confusion on whether the constitution should apply to all those within U.S. boundaries.

“If you are a lawful permanent resident, you are going to have more constitutional rights than if you have a student visa here temporarily,” Buys said.

As the country goes through periods of being pro-immigrant and anti-immigrant, the laws have changed along with the sentiment, Buys said, causing immigration laws in times of anti-immigration periods to be more strict and rigid in their wording and practice.

“The PATRIOT Act was more broadly aimed to help the investigations the federal government was conducting,” she said. ” It affected civil liberties for all of us, not just immigrants.”

And with a majority of detainees’ genealogy traceable back to the Middle East and South Asian regions of the world, Buys is worried about the potential racial profiling the act has allowed for.

“They came up with a list of people who came from certain countries that were mostly Middle-Eastern, and had them re-register with the government, clearly aiming at Arab countries.

“Prior to creating the camps for the Japanese, I think they started with necessary registration, and then it developed into what it became.”

Moustafa Ayad can be reached at [email protected]

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