Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Patriot Act in Practice: Sen. Russ Feingold grills DoJ official over use of Patriot Act

Earlier this week, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) questioned Assistant Attorney General David Kris over the use of the special powers given under the Patriot Act to "sneak and peak." Kris confirmed that in 2008 only 3 of 763 cases, where warrantless powers were used, involved suspected terrorists. What is important here, and Feingold made mention, is that the Patriot Act was sold to Congress, and the American people, on the pretext of its use against so-called terrorists. What is illustrated here, and in many other cases since 2001, is that the government has been using the Patriot Act against its own citizens for purposes other than terrorism. What is shocking however, is the number of cases cited by Kris that had nothing to do with terrorism.

Besides the Patriot Act, and often overlooked, is the Authorization for Use of Military Force Act (AUMF). Like the Patriot Act it contained provisions for warrantless behavior (in addition to the use military commissions). Also, the Military Commissions Act (2006) added more fuel to the fire by labeling anyone who is against the US government, non-military, as a possible terrorist. As scholar Elliot Cohen has noted:

According to this Act, an "unlawful enemy combatant" is to be defined as:

"an individual engaged in hostilities against the United States who is not a lawful enemy combatant."
This basically means that if a person is not a soldier in the service of a foreign government, but is nevertheless engaging in "hostilities" against the United States, then this person is an unlawful enemy combatant. Notice that this definition does not require that such a person be an "alien," which accordingly leaves open the possibility that this designation could also be applied to an American citizen.

In Hamdan vs Rumsfeld (2006) the Supreme Court ruled against the use of military commission (which did not give the accused a right to habeas corpus). As a result, the Bush administration, and a compliant Congress, passed the Military Commissions Act. This egregious act gives the government the power to accuse one of terrorism, not actually committing any crime mind you, without ever coming before a court of peers to determine guilt. It is simply guilty before proven innocent.

Check out the article on Feingold and Kris here.

Click here to read the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force Act.
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