Leahy critical of extended Patriot Act

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(Host) Senator Patrick Leahy says President Bush’s new plan to expand the Patriot Act will erode some basic civil liberties of American citizens. Leahy says there much better ways to help protect this country from future terrorist attacks.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The Bush administration launched its effort to expand the Patriot Act on the second anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. The original Act, which was passed in the wake of the attacks, gave the federal government new enforcement powers to fight terrorism.

Now the president is seeking the authority to allow law enforcement agencies to issue an administrative subpoena in terrorism cases without first getting the approval of a judge. The proposal also expands the number of cases where the death penalty can be applied and the plan includes a provision that gives judges greater authority to deny bail in terrorism related cases.

Leahy, who is the ranking minority member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, says it would be “dangerous” to give the Bush administration any of these expanded powers:

(Leahy) “We all want to be protected against terrorists but we want to do it in a way that doesn’t end up terrorizing Americans simply by the ways we live our lives. We all want to be safe from terrorists but we don’t become safe by setting up, in effect, a secret police force answerable to no one. In this county that’s one of the things we’ve fought to avoid for the 230 years of our existence.”

(Kinzel) The administration tried unsuccessfully to include the subpoena provision in the original Patriot Act but Congress refused to go along with the plan. Leahy says there’s a good reason why many members of Congress don’t like this approach:

(Leahy) “I like to have a check and balance. You can get an administrative subpoena very easily by going to a court now. They’re usually granted. But there’s always the knowledge that the court is going to be there to check if they’re being abused. This would be done with no check on abuse.”

(Kinzel) Leahy argues that there are other steps that should be taken to help reduce the threat of terrorism:

(Leahy) “We should spend far less time cozying up to the Saudis and spend more time saying, ‘You’ve got to crackdown on al-Qaeda,’ especially since most of them come from Saudi Arabia. They don’t come from Iraq, they come from Saudi Arabia and you’ve got to admit to these things, not frighten the American people into saying give up more of your freedoms.”

(Kinzel) The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to begin its review of the administration’s proposal later this month.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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