In Washingtonspeak it's a clear warning that when and if something big happens down the road, all those who dared to question the so-called Patriot Act and all the new powers sought by the Bushies will get the blame.
Ashcroft calls Patriot Act essential to terror fight
Wednesday, August 20
WASHINGTON -- Attorney General John Ashcroft warned Tuesday that repealing a post-9/11 law that boosted law enforcement's ability to investigate terrorism would endanger Americans.
''To abandon this tool would disconnect the dots, risk American lives, sacrifice liberty and reject Sept. 11's lessons,'' Ashcroft said as he kicked off a national campaign to defend the USA Patriot Act.
Ashcroft plans to visit more than a dozen cities to counter the American Civil Liberties Union's attacks on the Patriot Act in the media and in a lawsuit filed last month.
But Ashcroft will not hold any public forums to discuss the law, which Congress passed overwhelmingly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. His stops will be choreographed tightly, with speeches before law enforcement officials.
The Patriot Act broadened government's ability to use electronic and physical surveillance tactics to investigate terrorism. It also allowed the FBI to share evidence gathered in criminal probes with its own intelligence agents and the CIA.
But in recent months, there has been a backlash against the law, fueled by concerns that it could lead to violations of civil liberties. More than 150 cities and towns have passed resolutions critical of the Patriot Act. Ashcroft will visit Philadelphia today and Detroit on Thursday; they are among the cities that have passed resolutions emphasizing civil liberties.
There also are increasing questions about the Patriot Act in Congress. The House of Representatives voted last month to block certain funds from going to Justice Department agencies that use a part of the law that eases limits on ''sneak and peek'' warrants. Such warrants allow secret searches of homes and businesses. The Patriot Act gives authorities more time before having to notify those under investigation.
The Justice Department has set up a Web site -- www.lifeandliberty.gov -- to answer questions about the law.
Officials are ''realizing that the concern about civil liberties is genuine and deep,'' said Timothy Edgar, the ACLU's legislative director. ''I think they are worried that the public is beginning to turn against the Patriot Act.''
Ashcroft said the law has increased cooperation among federal, state and local officials.
''If we knew then what we know now, we would have passed the Patriot Act six months before Sept. 11,'' he said at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. ''For Congress to have done less would have been a failure of government's most basic responsibility . . . to preserve life and liberty.''
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