I am beyond outrage.
Last week, a draft of a sweeping new law was leaked to the government watchdog group, the Center for Public Integrity (CPI).
The bill, drafted by Attorney General John Ashcroft’s Department of Justice, is an expansion of the 2001 U.S. Patriot Act, which gave the government significant new surveillance powers.
After taking an initial look, it is clear that the 120-page document is one of the most anti-democratic pieces of legislation ever proposed by the U.S.
Once the document was leaked, a spokesperson for the Justice Department said that the draft has not yet been submitted to the Speaker of the House or the Vice President, which is the first step in the legislative process.
This was a flat-out lie. CPI also obtained a legislative “control sheet” which states clearly that both Speaker Dennis Hastert and Vice President Richard Cheney received drafts of the document on Jan. 10.
The Justice Department obviously wanted to keep the bill under wraps to prevent an extended public debate.
The Patriot Act was passed largely unnoticed by an American public distracted by the Sept. 11 terrorist attack and the new war on terrorism.
Ashcroft does not have that luxury this time.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the bill is officially submitted to Congress shortly after bombs start falling over Baghdad.
The bill, titled the Domestic Security Enhancement Act (DSEA) of 2003 goes far beyond the Patriot Act in several specific ways:
The law further increases the government’s ability to spy on citizens and limits the role of the courts in deciding when it is acceptable to do so.
It allows the government to declare individuals to be enemies of the U.S.
This would allow the government to declare anyone, with whom it is at war, an enemy and then detain them without trial.
This is already being done by declaring citizens, like so-called dirty-bomber suspect Jose Padilla, “enemy combatants.”
Anyone who aids a group or person considered to be an enemy could be arrested. This presumably includes providing services like medical care or legal aid.
The bill makes it much easier to strip “enemies” of their citizenship and detain them without trial.
The law makes it illegal to release any information about detainees. In other words, it would be illegal for newspapers to publish articles about citizens who are being detained without trial.
Since the detainees are held incommunicado, this amounts to creating a secret arrest and detention process.
In a thinly veiled throwback to hazardous industries, companies that produce harmful substances would no longer have to release information about the harm that a factory accident could cause.
This is cloaked in the excuse that this would make it easier for terrorists to cause such an accident.
These provisions are enough to make any citizen sick, and there is far more to the DSEA.
Next week, Brian White will take a deeper look at the implications of the bill.
Brian White can be reached at Zapata@temple.edu.