America needs to continue fighting terrorism without endangering our essential liberties. Unfortunately, President Bush is pressing for even greater police powers than those granted in the USA Patriot Act passed in haste after the 9-11 attacks in 2001.
In a speech Sept. 10 before the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., the president called on Congress to give law enforcement new powers. These included “administrative subpoenas, which enable law enforcement officials to obtain certain records quickly,” without the involvement of courts or grand juries, he said. “They’re used in a wide range of criminal and civil matters, including health care fraud and child abuse cases. Yet, incredibly enough, in terrorism cases, where speed is often of the essence, officials lack the authority to use administrative subpoenas. If we can use these subpoenas to catch crooked doctors, the Congress should allow law enforcement officials to use them in catching terrorists.”
Actually, using these powers to catch crooked doctors itself is dubious. But using them in the war on terrorism is different because this war already has been used as an excuse for the recent vast expansion of government under the president. “I’d have to be convinced that circumstances are so extreme that we wouldn’t have another branch of government (the judiciary) review the subpoenas,” Robert Levy said; he’s senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute.
This proposal originally was included in the Patriot Act two years ago, but was excluded after objections from Congress. Those objections remain. People deserve their day in court.
Another Bush proposal is to cancel bail for suspected terrorists. “Suspected terrorists could be released, free to leave the country, or worse, before the trial,” the president said of existing law.
“I don’t know what that means,” Levy said of the proposal. “Bail would be suspended by whom, for what? Unless someone spells out the details, it’s troublesome. It could mean anyone (Attorney General John) Ashcroft suspects could be held without bail. It would be an abrogation of habeas corpus.”
Levy said the new Bush proposals aren’t nearly as bad as those in the so-called Patriot Act II, such as making it much easier for government to snoop on citizens. But these new proposals are bad enough and ought to be rejected by Congress.
The threat of terrorism is no reason to jettison our ancient liberties, but to treasure them all the more.