Bush Stumps for Patriot Act Renewal

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The President visits Ohio to push for renewal of portions of the U.S.A. Patriot Act that are due to expire at the end of the year.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK:

And I'm Melissa Block.

President Bush is pressing Congress to renew some of the key provisions of the Patriot Act. They give the government more authority for investigations and surveillance. When the Patriot Act was passed six weeks after 9/11, some of its strongest provisions were made temporary to get more lawmakers to support it.

SIEGEL: Civil libertarians and others say the Patriot Act went too far and eroded personal freedom. A new poll released today by ABC and The Washington Post says three out of five Americans still support the law. It also says fewer people than ever think the government is doing enough to protect the rights of American citizens.

BLOCK: Today, the president took his Patriot Act effort to Ohio. He presented his case at a state police training center there, and he cited the example of an al-Qaeda operative from Columbus. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA reporting:

In a 25-minute speech from a stage that featured dozens of members of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, the president stressed that if America is going to continue to counter terrorist threats, the Patriot Act is an indispensable tool and needs to be kept intact. Mr. Bush said that since its passage, the Patriot Act has saved American lives, and that it would be wrong to let any of the act expire as called for under the current law.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Some people call these sunset provisions. That's a good name, because letting those provisions expire would leave law enforcement in the dark.

GONYEA: Those elements that need renewal include a streamlined process by which law enforcement can use wiretaps, and provisions allowing for secret searches and for surveillance of homes, businesses and of personal records. In Ohio this morning, the president highlighted the case of a truck driver named Iyman Faris.

Pres. BUSH: For several years, Iyman Faris posed as a law-abiding resident of Columbus. But in 2000, he traveled to Afghanistan and met Osama bin Laden at an al-Qaeda training camp.

GONYEA: The president says by combining records from police in the US with information gathered by intelligence sources in Afghanistan, they were able to determine that in 2002, following the 9/11 attacks, Faris had been in contact with al-Qaeda leaders, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed, and was working on other attacks, possibly including one against the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. In the spring of 2003, authorities confronted Faris.

Pres. BUSH: The case against him was so strong that Faris chose to cooperate, and he spent the next several weeks telling authorities about his al-Qaeda association. Faris pled guilty to the charges against him. And today, instead of planning terror attacks against the American people, Iyman Faris is sitting in an American prison.

GONYEA: But congressional critics of the Patriot Act say the bill doesn't need to be scrapped. It simply needs to be mended to guard against serious potential abuses of individual rights by law enforcement officials. The White House says there has not been a single documented case of abuse since the law was enacted in 2001 and that there's adequate oversight by both the executive branch and by a congressional panel. But those who want to fix the law counter that the absence of documented cases so far doesn't mean there won't be future abuses. Further, they add that because of the secret nature of much of what authorities can now do, people don't even know if their rights have been violated. Lisa Graves is an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Ms. LISA GRAVES (Attorney, American Civil Liberties Union): There is bipartisan support for fixing the Patriot Act. The president wants to make that law permanent with no real changes. In fact, he even wants to expand it to give the FBI the power to search people's records about their health, their wealth, their tax records, gun purchase records, medical records, records about the books they buy or borrow. And he wants the FBI to be able to do that without getting a court order in advance. That's just not the American way.

GONYEA: Despite such criticism and the worries expressed by Democrats and Republicans, congressional support for the Patriot Act still seems strong. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Columbus, Ohio.

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