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With no modification and little debate, Democrats send Patriot Act extension to Obama

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, February 25, 2010 22:24 EDT
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Kucinich jeers: Congress is ‘complicit’ in violating Americans’ constitutional rights

In the wake of congressional Democrats’ reauthorization and extension of the USA Patriot Act, few elected Democrats have been as vocal about the post-9/11 security measures as they were during the Bush administration.

Leave it to stalwart House progressive Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) to raise a rallying cry against what he called America’s love of its fears.

“This legislation extends three problematic provisions of the PATRIOT Act and, at the same time, leaves some of the most egregious provisions in place, absent any meaningful reform and debate,” he declared in a media advisory.

The specific provisions he cited are the Patriot Act’s powers to conduct roving wiretaps, conduct surveillance of people not thought to have any association with terrorism and tap into your personal records, such as library accounts.

The extensions were approved by Congress and sent to President Obama on Thursday, several days before the Patriot Act’s most nefarious portions were set to expire. President Obama had yet to sign the bill at time of this writing.

The Associated Press called the votes a “political victory for Republicans.”

Some Senate Democrats did attempt to propose some modifications to the legislation that would have allowed for greater oversight, but they were ignored. Democratic leadership bowed to the wishes of Republicans and conducted a voice vote on Wednesday, upon which the one-year extension was passed. The House voted 315-97 in favor on Thursday.

“Thrown away were restrictions and greater scrutiny on the government’s authority to spy on Americans and seize their records,” AP added.

“While I strongly support using the most robust tools possible to go after terrorists, Congress must revise and narrow — not extend — Bush era policies,” said Congresswoman Jane Harman (D-CA), according to Reuters.

Kucinich’s scorn for the legislation was even more pronounced.

“Despite years of documentation evidencing abuse of these provisions during the Bush Administration, the Department of Justice has failed to hold Bush Administration officials accountable for illegal domestic spying by barring any lawsuits to be brought against those officials,” he said. “Months into this Administration, The New York Times reported that the National Security Agency had ‘intercepted private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans in recent months on a scale that went beyond the broad legal limits,’ and that the practice was ‘significant and systematic.’ Passage of this legislation today continues to make Congress complicit in these violations of our basic constitutional rights.”

The title of his press release pleaded for congress to “repeal” the Patriot Act and “restore Constitutional rights to Americans.”

“As Members of Congress sworn to protect the rights and civil liberties afforded to us by the Constitution, we have a responsibility to exercise our oversight powers fully, and significantly reform the PATRIOT Act, ensuring that the privacy and civil liberties of all Americans are fully protected,” he said. “More than eight years after the passage of the PATRIOT Act, we have failed to do so. As National Journal correspondent Shane Harris recently put it, we have witnessed the rise of an ‘American Surveillance State.’ We have come to love our fears more than we love our freedoms.”

The USA Patriot Act was passed by Congress in the weeks proceeding the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Many Democrats criticized its passage as too hasty, with some even claiming they did not have a chance to read the hefty legislation before the vote. At the time, the Republican majority did not question it, falling in line to support the legislation seemingly regardless of what the Bush administration put in it.

“This was not, in my view, the finest hour for the United States Senate,” Senator Russel Feingold (D-WI) said, in an address given to Congress on Oct. 12, 2001. “The debate on a bill that may have the most far reaching consequences on the civil liberties of the American people in a generation was a non-debate. The merits took a back seat to the deal.”

In contrast, many of those same Republicans have criticized President Obama for attempting to pass his package of health care reforms too quickly, though none of them voiced that same concern about the USA Patriot Act.

President Obama is expected to sign the extension before Sunday.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
 
 
 
 
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