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December 6, 2003
Yo, Al -- Ed & Pete Wanna Have a Word Wit' Ya

I heard about this editorial in yesterday's New York Post and it certainly tells a different story about the Patriot Act than our erstwhile Democratic presidential candidates, and a certain ex-Vice President as well. Ed Koch, former Democratic mayor of New York City, and Rep. Peter King (R) of New York wrote:

THE brutal attacks of 9/11 brought home to the American people what should have been clear to our nation's leaders years before that fateful day: We are at war with Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda and their radical Islamic terrorist allies throughout the world and within our borders. It is a war that threatens our national survival. Yet, listening to an increasingly shrill chorus of political voices, Americans could almost conclude that the real threat to our country comes not from bin Laden and al Qaeda but John Ashcroft and the Patriot Act.

It seems like a wide gulf has appeared between reality and candidates such as:

* Wesley Clark: The Patriot Act has "essentially suspended habeas corpus."
* Howard Dean: The Patriot Act is "shameful" and "unconstitutional".
* Dick Gephardt pledges to fire John Ashcroft in his "first five minutes as president."
* John Kerry also pledges that "There will be no John Ashcroft trampling on the Bill of Rights" in a Kerry administration.

However, none of these candidates discuss specifically what they find so objectionable to the Patriot Act, other than Ashcroft's presence in utilizing it. The only one talking specifics is Al Gore, who isn't running for anything -- for now, at least. Gore specifies these sections of the Act as egregious violations of civil liberties:

Gore accused the president and his attorney general of "constant violations of civil liberties," "putting our country in grave and unnecessary danger" and "using the war against terrorism for partisan advantage." His attacks centered on three parts of the Patriot Act: Sec. 214, which allows federal agents to delay giving suspects notice after a search has been carried out; Sec. 215, which allows searches of medical, business and library records of suspected terrorists; and Sec. 218, which allows surveillance of cell phones and Internet communications.

King and Koch take Gore's arguments and shred them:

* The delayed notification in Sec. 213 was already the law in cases involving organized crime, narcotics and pornography. It makes common sense because it would be absurd to inform a suspected mobster or a terrorist during the course of an investigation that a listening device had been installed in his home or office.

* Sec. 215 - the much-feared "assault against librarians" - has not been used even once. Nonetheless, we strongly believe this is a weapon that must remain in the prosecutor's arsenal. There could well be cases, for instance, when it would be critical to learn whether a suspected terrorist is reading books on explosives or the structural design of office buildings, landmark sites, bridges or tunnels. It should also be noted that library records were instrumental in tracking down such murderers as the Zodiac killer and the Unabomber.

* Sec. 218 merely gives federal agents authority to conduct surveillance of cell phones and the Internet to the same extent they can surveil rotary phones. It would be foolhardy to let terrorists use the technology of modern telecommunications without fear of being detected.

So really, the main thrust of the Patriot Act was to extend investigative tools already allowed into the realm of anti-terrorism investigations and new technologies. It is nowhere near as innovative as its critics have been claiming. Likely, this is why the Patriot Act overwhelmingly passed both houses of Congress; in the Senate there was only one dissenting vote (Russ Feingold, D-WI).

Koch and King finish with this:

[W]e commend President Bush and Attorney General Ashcroft for the superb job they have done over the past two years. Our liberties have been protected and our country has not been attacked. Unlike their critics, George W. Bush and John Ashcroft have had to face the hard choices and make the hard decisions. And they have made them well.

Well put.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 6, 2003 12:09 PM

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