DETROIT - The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan today urged Congress and the American people to reject the latest call by the Bush administration to extend the USA Patriot Act. The ACLU said that the president’s renewed request, which came in new campaign advertising that began airing today, is misleading and ignores strong bi-partisan support for fixes to the law.
"Legitimate questions about the Patriot Act should not be exploited for partisan politics," said ACLU of Michigan Executive Director Kary Moss. "Unfortunately the president is using his reelection campaign to mislead the American people about the Patriot Act and its ramifications."
The ACLU said the new Bush ads echo misstatements made in Mr. Bush’s earlier stump speeches on the Patriot Act in Buffalo and Hershey, Pennsylvania. The president’s ads started to run today in 19 states including Michigan.
“People who live here understand they can be safe and give law enforcement the tools they need without government intrusion and threats to civil liberties,” said Moss. The ACLU of Michigan will continue to challenge misinformation about the Patriot Act through public events and education efforts,” she said.
The 30-second spots suggest that proposed changes to the Patriot Act would bar federal agents from using new surveillance and investigative powers against terrorists that it claims are "routinely" used against common criminals. In actuality, the main Patriot-fix bill, supported by conservatives and liberals alike, called the Security and Freedom Ensured, or SAFE, Act would simply narrow several of the Patriot Act’s most contentious provisions, requiring greater judicial review and more checks against abuse. Nothing in the act would eliminate the secret search and surveillance powers authorized or expanded in the Patriot Act.
"The president’s ad is misleading in that it appears to make the assertion that these powers were not available for anti-terrorism investigations of criminal suspects prior to the Patriot Act," Moss said. "Law enforcement officials could wiretap suspected criminals, whether they were alleged terrorists or drug dealers, before the Patriot Act."
"Parts of the Patriot Act - passed in haste 45 days after 9/11 - went too far, too fast," Moss added. "The president needs to listen to the voices in his own party and among the general public that are asking for a better law, not one that continues to erode our fundamental freedoms."
The ACLU emphasized that its criticism of the new ads is non-partisan.
"We have worked with elected officials from both the Democratic and Republican party on Patriot Act issues," said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. The ACLU adheres to a strict institutional policy that forbids it from endorsing or opposing candidates for political office.
"Over the last year, we’ve seen bi-partisan efforts to fix some of the worst provisions of the Patriot Act," Murphy added. "Many prominent Republicans and Democrats want to restore checks and balances on excessive federal power that, if left on the books, could be used against activists and organizations from all sides of the political spectrum."
Republican Senators Larry Craig and Michael Crapo, both from Idaho, and John Sununu from New Hampshire are primary co-sponsors of the SAFE Act. Other supporters of the legislation include Senators Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, John Kerry of Massachusetts and Richard Durbin of Illinois. The House version of the SAFE Act is being championed by Representative C.L. "Butch" Otter, a pro-gun, pro-"family values" Idahoan.
Last week, Orrin Hatch, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, pledged that he would hold hearings about the SAFE Act, saying that his colleagues believe "it is something that should be done."