Patriot Act Vital to Protect Americans, Says President
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 20, 2004 Ensuring the safety of the public is a government's top responsibility, President Bush said April 19. And the USA Patriot Act allows governments at all levels to protect their citizens.
During a speech in Hershey, Pa., Bush explained that Americans' thinking on how to protect this country changed after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. People realized "the best way to secure our homeland is to go on the offensive against the terrorist network(s)," he said.
Early in his speech, Bush said he was honored to meet former Army Maj. Dick Winters, who was present. The HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers" was based on the World War II platoon Winters led in Europe.
The war on terrorism is "a different kind of war than the war that Maj. Winters fought in," Bush said. "This is a war against people who will hide in a cave and then they strike and kill innocent people.
"They have no conscience," he added. "They have no sense of guilt."
Bush urged lawmakers to extend permanently the USA Patriot Act, which is due to expire next year. He called the law, which passed easily after the Sept. 11 attacks, "an important piece of legislation" that is making America safer.
He described four specific areas in which the Patriot Act is helping law enforcement and intelligence officials.
- Roving wiretaps. Bush said that before the Patriot Act went into effect, law enforcement officials had the authority to use so-called "roving wiretaps" which allow for officials to follow the subject of the court- ordered wiretap from one phone to another to investigate organized crime and drug dealers but not to investigate terrorists.
"Terrorists could switch phones and we couldn't follow them," Bush said. "The Patriot Act changed that."
- Delayed-notification search warrants. Such warrants, allow law enforcement personnel, with court approval, to carry out lawful searches without tipping off subjects and giving them a chance to flee or destroy evidence, Bush said.
"Before September the 11th, the standards for these kinds of warrants were different around the country. It made it hard to have kind of a national strategy to chase down what might be a terrorist group," he said. "The Patriot Act provided a clear national standard and now allows these warrants to be used in terrorism cases."
- Obtaining business and financial records. The president said that before the Patriot Act it was easier for investigators to "chase the money trail" of white-collar criminals than of suspected terrorists.
"The Patriot Act ended this double standard and made it easier for investigators to catch suspected terrorists by following paper trails here in America," Bush said.
- Tougher sentences. The Patriot Act strengthened penalties for crimes committed by terrorists, such as arson or attacks on power plants or mass-transit systems, Bush said.
"We needed to send a signal at the very minimum that our laws are going to be tough on (terrorists)," he said.
And it's working.
Bush described an incident from 2001 in which the Patriot Act was credited with stopping a terrorist cell in Portland, Oregon. A federal prosecutor had evidence a local man was planning attacks on Jewish schools and synagogues and on American troops overseas.
Interdepartmental cooperation made possible by the USA Patriot Act allowed the initial information to reach the FBI and various intelligence services. "See, the Patriot Act allowed for unprecedented cooperation," Bush said.
Surveillance tools enacted by the Patriot Act allowed the FBI to eventually learn the man was part of a seven-member terrorist cell, which has since been interrupted. "The Patriot Act gave local and federal law enforcement officials the capacity to better understand the intelligence and to better understand the nature of the terrorist cell," Bush said.
Since the Patriot Act has been enacted, officials have dismantled terrorist cells in Oregon, New York, North Carolina and Virginia; prosecuted terrorist operatives and supporters in California, Ohio, Texas and Florida; and frozen or seized $200 million in terrorists' assets around the world, Bush said.
In calling on the Congress to make the act permanent, Bush noted the terrorists declared war on the United States. "Congress must give law enforcement all the tools necessary to protect the American people," he said.
Bush also proposed several more measures he'd like Congress to authorize "to strengthen authorities and penalties to defend our homeland."
- Administrative subpoenas. "This is the authority to request certain types of time-sensitive records without the delay of going through a judge or grand jury," Bush said.
He explained such subpoenas are used in law enforcement today to investigate healthcare fraud. "If the American people expect us to do our jobs," he said, "it seems like we ought to have the very same tools necessary to run down a bad doc as to run down a terrorist."
- Limiting bail for terrorist-related crimes. Judges have the leeway to withhold bail from individuals charged with a host of crimes, but terrorism isn't on the list. "Think about what that means," Bush said. "Suspected terrorists could be released, free to leave the country or worse, before their trial.
"If a dangerous drug dealer can be held without bail, the Congress should allow the same treatment for terrorists."
- Applying the death penalty for convicted terrorists. Under existing law, some terrorist-related crimes that result in the deaths of others are not eligible for the death penalty.
"We ought to be sending a strong signal (to terrorists)," Bush said. "If you sabotage a defense installation or a nuclear facility in a way that takes an innocent life, you ought to get the death penalty."
Bush noted the United States is an open society that values freedom, and this makes us more vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
"And there's only (one) path to safety, and that's the path of action," he said. "We must continue to stay on the offense when it comes to chasing these killers down and bringing them to justice. And we will."