making the patriot act safe for americans

Representative John Conyers, Democrat from Michigan, is one of the few people in DC who seems to be standing up against the administration even when it’s not politically expedient to do so. When others have held back and waited for the polls to come in before taking a side, he’s jumped in and fought to shed light on voting irregularities in Ohio, fake newsmen in the White House press corps, and the sweeping scope of the Patriot Act. And, as if that weren’t enough, when he’s not fighting the good fight in Congress, he’s blogging. (Granted, it may very well be a staffer, but he’s still allocating the resources to do it.) Here’s a clip from his most recent post, which is on the subject of the Patriot Act:

Today, at 1pm, the Attorney General of the United States will testify before the House Judiciary Committee. It has been an oft-repeated claim of the Department of Justice that there have been no documented abuses of the Patriot Act.

This statement is patently untrue. While it has been difficult to get a complete accounting of the Patriot Act’s misuse (largely due to the Department’s own unwillingness to provide the public with the most basic information about how the Act is being used), the American Civil Liberties Union has extensively catalogued a number of abuses.

One that stands out to me is the case of Brandon Mayfield. For those unfamiliar with Mr. Mayfield’s case, he is a Muslim-American lawyer from Portland, Oregon. In the wake of the terrorist bombing in Madrid, Spain, the Federal Bureau of Investigation claimed to have found Mr. Mayfield’s fingerprint at the site of the bombing. They subsequently placed Mayfield under arrest as a material witness to a crime of terrorism (I would discuss what an abuse of the material witness statute this constitutes, but this would be a much longer entry if I did).

Mayfield insisted he had not visited Spain and had no knowledge or involvement in any terrorist activity. He was telling the truth. The FBI has conceded the point, and even John Ashcroft apologized publicly to him.

On June 16, 2004, I sent the Department’s Inspector General a letter asking him to initiate an investigation of the errors that led to the arrest and detention of Brandon Mayfield in association with the terrorist bombing in Madrid. He responded that his office would indeed open an investigation to examine the erroneous identification of Mr. Mayfield through faulty FBI fingerprint analysis and the decision to pursue him as a material witness to that crime. That investigation is ongoing.

While we have been long aware of the injustice done to Mayfield as a result of his detention, we are just now becoming aware of the extent to which his civil liberties were otherwise violated. Just yesterday, I received a letter, sent to Mayfield’s attorney by the Department, which reveals that on an undisclosed number of occasions, government agents secretly searched his apartment, copied hard drives from his computer and even seized DNA samples. This is horrifying.

Worse still, the Department still refuses to give Mayfield a full accounting of what searches were conducted, when they were conducted, and what exactly was seized. When an innocent man can’t even find out the extent to which his rights have been violated, something is very very wrong with our system of checks and balances. This is law enforcement run amok.

Fortunately, several members of Congress are banning together to propose legislation that would fix some of the more objectionable elements of the Patriot Act. (You can read Conyers’ statement before the congressional committee this afternoon here.)

And here, becasue I think it sums things up nicely, is what MoveOn has to say about the effort to change the Patriot Act:

Several Members of Congress will soon introduce bipartisan legislation to fix problems in the Patriot Act without weakening any of the new authority it provided to fight terrorism. This legislation — the Security and Freedom Ensured (SAFE) Act — would surgically add key checks and balances, like court review, on some of the Patriot Act provisions most prone to abuse.

Urge your Members of Congress to support new bipartisan legislation that would fix flaws in the Patriot Act.

The Patriot Act passed a mere 45 days after the Sept. 11 attacks with virtually no debate or discussion. Now, thanks to this act and other Bush Administration actions, the government has significant new powers to conduct secret searches and gather information without proper judicial review.

The government has not been shy to use these new powers. In 2003, for the first time in history, the American government used more secret intelligence wiretaps — which have fewer checks against potential abuse — than criminal wiretaps. Concerned that the government is using its secret intelligence powers to circumvent the Constitution, several Members of Congress will introduce the SAFE Act to help ensure that the government does not abuse its counter-terrorism powers.

I love that they could find a way to name it “SAFE.” (It’s encouraging to see that we’re finally trying to beat them at their own Orwellian game.)

If you would like to send a letter to your representatives, letting them know of your support for the Security and Freedom Secured Act, you can do that by clicking here.

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4 Comments

  1. Posted April 7, 2005 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing the link, Mark. I live in his district and didn’t know about his blog.

  2. Posted April 7, 2005 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    This is going to sound pretty stupid to anyone who knows anything at all about detroit politics, but here goes…

    I looked at Conyer’s blog, whom i’ve been a fan of since the lewinsky debacle when he was one of the only reasonable members of the impeachment panel. As I was reading it, I wondered if his district (14) included belle isle, as I’ve been thinking a lot about the aquarium as of late, and figured he might be the one to talk to about intervening on its behalf.

    So, I did a search for a map of the district boundaries and found that he is NOT the rep for that area, which is considered district 13 (lucky, eh?), so I brought up the site of the U.S. Rep that IS in charge of it, here, and was pretty surprised to find that, considering Mayor Kilpatrick is one of the people campaigning for the Aquarium’s demise, the Rep. happens to be his MOTHER.

    I’m thinking someone should write her, which probably has happened already, but it would be great if she did care about saving the aquarium, and showed up at a mayoral press conference and grabbed Kwayme by the ear, dragging him off stage in front of everyone.

  3. Dave Morris
    Posted April 8, 2005 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Although I am not being put under false arrest, my recent experiences with the TSA are becoming a bit unnerving. I have to travel frequently for my business. Part of my work requires that I bring tools with me to the construction sites. I pack them in my luggage and check them. Every time, I get the nice little note saying that the TSA conducted a search. No problem. A bit annoying, but so is having to take my shoes and belt off. Nothing that I can’t make a mental adjustment to.

    However, recently I cannot directly check in. I have to ask an airline worker for assistance, at which point they ask for my ID and disappear for 5 minutes. They return with some piece of paper saying that I am on the Department of Homeland Security’s watch list.

    The first time I got one of these I had a fit. The airline worker said it was no big deal- go to their website and express my grievance. I wanted to express my anger right there in not so friendly terms, but she was just the messenger.

    So, the last time I traveled I decided to check in at home and print my boarding pass. Avoid the strange public spectacle bullshit. Baggage check was fine. Everything went well. I get down to San Diego and my luggage is coming in on the next flight. Fine. I wait. I’m late for my meeting at the jobsite, but things will be fine. My luggage comes in. I go to my hotel room, open the bag and some of my stuff had been removed- a tube of silicone adhesive and a utility knife.

    Now I know that utility knifes on planes are bad voodoo. That is why I check the damn luggage. But silicone adhesive? Come on.

    I am trying to imagine the process by which I am slowly achieving “potential terrorist” status and I am imagining a group of underpaid, bored workers digging through peoples luggage in a warehouse that smells like jet fuel trying to find something suspicious to justify their work. And here comes a bag full of my tools… I am just a name tag on the outside of the bag.

    I know this idea of dehumanization has been run up the flag pole many times, but when it happens it gets me thinking about the way these disconnected decisions are made and how all the subtle human connections are broken s a result.

    I have decided to start writing notes to the workers or putting something humourous in there, like homemade cookies for them. We’ll see how that flies.

    By the way, I have noticed that my luggage is less disrupted on the return trip. Probably because they don’t want to touch my smelly socks and underwear. I guess another option is to fly out of town with dirty laundry in there.

    Dave

  4. Posted April 13, 2005 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Brett, Nice idea, although I believe Kwame’s mother isn’t that much less corrupt than her son since wasn’t she driving the infamous red Navigator originally? I have a feeling she wouldn’t be dragging him out by his ear at all. And now they’re saying the Detroit Zoo (as the Belle Isle Zoo is already gone) and the Detroit Historical Museum are also in trouble. Bloody Hell, I already support a majority of the cultural institutions of the city, but it looks like I’m going to have to ante up for the Historical Museum as well.

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