Bush Calls for Renewing Key Patriot Act Provisions
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
From NPR News and Slate magazine online, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.
Coming up, a California town is stunned by al-Qaeda-linked arrests.
But first, President Bush is in Columbus, Ohio, today talking about the Patriot Act. He's telling Congress it ought to make expiring provisions of the act permanent. Bush insists that the act, which was passed six weeks after the 9/11 terror attacks, has made Americans safer.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: The Patriot Act has accomplished exactly what it was designed to do. It has protected American liberty and saved American lives.
BRAND: Renewing the act has been controversial though, uniting civil libertarians on the left and on the right who believe it gives the federal government too much power. Joining us to talk about the president's speech today is NPR White House correspondent David Greene.
And, David, the president is talking today about how the Patriot Act helped break up a plot against a New York bridge. I gather that's the Brooklyn Bridge. Why is saying that in Ohio?
DAVID GREENE reporting:
Yeah, Madeleine, he was talking about a gentlemen named Iyman Faris. He's from Pakistan. He was a truck driver in Ohio who was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2003, and at the time, the government painted a really scary portrait of him. They said he met with al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan and plotted to destroy the suspension cables in the Brooklyn Bridge as part of a new wave of terrorist attacks and also was involved in a plot to blow up a mall somewhere in central Ohio, and that was a report that really shook the heartland quite a bit. So the president was coming to talk about the threat of terrorism in a place that really was pretty frightened when news of that possible plot came out.
BRAND: And the president is highlighting the surveillance aspects of the Patriot Act. What are some of the other provisions?
GREENE: Well, there are a number of pretty controversial provisions. It allows immigration cases proceedings to go on in secret. It allows the government to hold suspects incommunicado sometimes for weeks, even months. Really the parts of the act that have caused the most frustration among civil liberties groups, though, are the search-and-seizure provisions. The Patriot Act allows law enforcement authorities to go into people's homes and businesses in secret. It allows them in some cases to look at medical records and credit card records. In fact, there are some Republicans who are pushing to allow that to happen without even getting the permission of a judge. And these are some of the provisions that really were controversial back in 2001 and a lot of critics backed away and voted for the act with a promise from supporters that this debate would come back now and that a lot of these provisions that frightened them would come up for renewal at this point which is where we are today, the debate kind of coming back.
BRAND: And why is the president talking about this today? He's not talked a lot about it recently.
GREENE: He really hasn't. If you look at the news surrounding the Bush administration recently, the Iraq War in the last month or so hasn't gone well. There's been a lot of violence and a lot of pictures of violence in newspapers and on the news that Americans have seen. His Social Security plan, according to polls, really hasn't gotten the jolt that the White House was looking for. And then we heard from members of Congress yesterday that the president told them in a private meeting that he's worried about his immigration plan and is going to try to push it farther because he hasn't made a lot of progress. So this was a moment for the president to come to the heartland, a place that was shaken by terrorism threats that they read about and to kind of change the subject and talk about a piece of legislation that does have support around the country.
BRAND: NPR White House reporter David Greene.