The Republican controlled House of Representatives on Monday, Valentine’s Day, approved a 10-month extension of three key law enforcement powers in the “war” on terror by a vote of 275-144.
The House measure, provided the Democratic controlled Senate approves, will extend authority for the USA Patriot Act-related provisions until 8 Dec 11; the Senate can of course move slowly and allow the provisions to expire on 28 Feb 11.
The two key – post 9-11 – over-reactionary provisions are those giving counter-terrorism offices roving wiretap authority to monitor multiple electronic devices and court-approved access to business records relating to a terrorist investigation. Of course these provisions wouldn’t have prevented the 9-11 attacks as it was not a lack of “intelligence” which allowed the plotters to carry out their attacks, but the lack of coordination within the intelligence community; but, when have facts had any play when we are debating the “war” on terror?
The third “lone wolf” provision, was passed in 2004, and permits secret intelligence surveillance of non-U.S. individuals not known to be linked to a specific terrorist organization. Basically, the government can monitor any non-citizen without cause. Without any justification, or proof, that the individual (s) are in any way connected to a terrorist organization.
It was just last week the GOP leadership attempted to pass the same bill using an expedited procedure requiring a two-thirds majority only to be poked soundly in the eye when twenty-six Republicans joined 122 Democrats in voting against it. Even with a victory, today’s vote drew 27 Republican no votes. The fact so many GOP members of the House are voting no should give voters pause as to whether “We the People” really need these provisions to continue. At question is the clearly unconstitutional search and seize authority coupled with an Orwellian-like big government intrusion into private lives.
One of the GOP dissenters, Dana Rohrabacher, CA, said “I believe the American people have a legitimate fear of out-of-control government. And yes, they have a legitimate fear of out-of-control prosecutors and out-of-control spy networks.”
Those supporting the measure claim it’s needed so Congress can have time to study it, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, argued a temporary extension “is the only way to provide House members the time to study the law” and consider possible changes. Excuse me Congressman, but the law has been around since, oh I don’t know, maybe 9-11? That’s been almost ten years; exactly how much time do you need to “study” the law? Don’t be coy, and stop treating us like we’re stupid, what you want is to keep extending it until it becomes permanent.
In opposing the continuation of the laws Democrats got only one chance to attempt an amendment, stating investigations must comply with the Constitution and that courts must give expedited consideration when a U.S. citizen argues that his or her constitutional rights have been violated. Even after invoking the need for the law to comply with the Constitution, which is supposed to be the new measuring stick put in place by the GOP, it was defeated on a party-line vote; so much for caring about the American people’s constitutional liberties.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., plans to bring before his committee a bill extending the three provisions through 2013 while tightening disclosure procedures. Republicans have countered with a proposal to make the three measures permanent. Of course there’s a great deal of pressure to hurry up and get it done because next week, leading up to the Feb. 28 deadline, Congress will not be in session, and the laws would be gone.
The disturbing part of this extension fight is the fact the GOP leadership has waited until the last possible moment to bring it forward to sharply limit any debate or consideration of renewal. It is the same, “hurry up”, and “we have to have this in order to defend our country” mentality which allowed the Patriot Act to be passed in the first place. No one wants to oppose it, because to do so would open one up to attacks of not being a “Patriot”, hence the very cagey name. It’s time for Congress, and particularly the Democratic leadership, to rein in this insanity and allow the Patriot Act to pass into history. It gave too much authority to law enforcement, and it took too much away from the citizenry. Benjamin Franklin could have been speaking to those supporting the continuation, when he said, “They that give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”