Die, Patriot Act, die!
David Weigel over at Reason offers up a must-read article on the growing unpopularity of the Patriot Act, which he describes as "the most galvanizing legislation for civil liberties activists since the Sedition Act of 1918." Ordinary Americans, irrespective of their partisan affiliation, who were once willing to trade away some of their freedoms for security, are no longer willing to strike that bargain. The people of Idaho, a blood-red state, changed their minds because of Sami Omar Al-Hussayen.:
Al-Hussayen was a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Idaho, a native Saudi who lived in the United States for nine years studying computer science. In February 2003 the FBI raided his home; he was charged with three counts of terrorism, four counts of making false statements, and seven counts of visa fraud. He had helped design a Web site for the Islamic Assembly of North America, which the government said promoted "radical Islamic ideology.' Such work was prohibited by a PATRIOT Act provision that made it a crime to give "expert advice or assistance' to foreign terrorist groups. As Idaho watched, al-Hussayen spent a year in prison while the government built a case. At his trial the government insinuated terror ties based on al-Hussayen's computer records, and al-Hussayen's attorneys argued that the "expert advice' provision violated the First Amendment. In June 2004 al-Hussayen was acquitted of all terrorism charges.
Local opinion about the PATRIOT Act soured throughout this period. Attorney General Ashcroft hyped the case, calling al-Hussayen part of "a terrorist threat to Americans that is fanatical, and it is fierce,' which didn't comport with local sentiment regarding the suspect and his family. Jurors told the Idaho Statesman newspaper that they balked at the government's case because it violated al-Hussayen's First Amendment rights. ...
What happened in Idaho was just the most vivid example of how public support for the PATRIOT Act can go wobbly. Activists have publicized the use of the law's most controversial sections, which allow sneak-and-peek searches (that is, searches conducted without notifying the targets) and government inspection of bank, library, and other records. (As of January 2005 there had been 155 sneaks-and-peeks, and as of April there had been 35 record inspectionsÃ¢â‚¬â€all in banks.) This kind of information has taken a toll, and so has the use of the PATRIOT Act to chase ordinary crimes and to prosecute people based on tenuous leaks to terrorism. After the al-Hussayen verdict, Georgetown University law professor David Cole told the Los Angeles Times the case was a very useful illustration of PATRIOT Act abuse. "When President Bush and Dick Cheney say, 'You have not shown me a single abuse of the Patriot Act,'" he said, "I think people can now say, 'Look at the Sami Omar Al-Hussayen case.'" [LINK]That case led to a unanimous antiÃ¢â‚¬â€œPATRIOT Act resolution in the Idaho state legislature, which is 85 percent Republican.
Weigel acknowledges the sorry fact that the Patriot Act has been renewed in the House and will likely meet the same fate in the Senate. But the Republican leadership's two greatest assets -- iron-clad control over its own members and numerical strength -- are already beginning to erode. It's only a matter of time before popular will finds its expression in law.
P.S: Talking of strange bedfellows, look who's in the sack with the ACLU: "In March former Rep. Bob Barr, a Georgia Republican who had been working with anti-PATRIOT groups for years, launched a coalition named Patriots to Restore Checks and Balances. The group includes not just the ACLU and the Libertarian Party but Paul WeyrichÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Free Congress Foundation, Grover NorquistÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Americans for Tax Reform, the American Conservative Union, and other groups that support right-wing causes."