Better foreign policy is needed [+Critique of Patriot Act]

The Record - Sunday, May 8, 2005

Congress is considering what to do with the law popularly known as the Patriot Act. Congress passed it in late 2001 after then-Attorney General John Ashcroft said that more Sept. 11-style attacks were likely, and that Congress would be responsible if it refused to enact the law the administration proposed. The act allows the government to spy on anyone - to more easily inspect our bank records, our log of Internet communications, our book-borrowing from libraries.

The act lets the government monitor e-mail traffic without having to prove probable cause that a person is engaged in crime. It allows searches under search warrants without notifying the owner of the premises at the time of the search, as was previously required, but only some time later.

The act lets a special court authorize wiretapping of telephones if an investigation has foreign intelligence aspects, rather than, as before, only if foreign intelligence was the main focus of the investigation.

Congress inserted a "sunset" provision for many of the act's provisions, making them expire at the end of 2005 unless Congress re-enacts them. The idea was to assess whether these intrusions on liberties serve any purpose.

The administration has been less than helpful in giving Congress information about what the act has accomplished. When asked whether the act has stopped any terrorism, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has declined to provide a detailed response. While it cannot be proved whether the act has achieved its purpose, what is provable is the risk of intrusion to which everyone has been subjected.

Terrorism must be approached like any negative social phenomenon - by figuring out why it happens. This is where the Bush administration falters.

According to President Bush, terrorism stems from hatred for America and its way of life - a hatred that in his analysis either has no basis, or was born out of a fundamentalist version of Islam.

Working from that analysis, the administration sees better intelligence and punitive measures as the way to combat terrorism. Even if the Patriot Act did marginally help against terrorism, the administration is still missing a more effective way.

The terrorism the United States has experienced in recent years reflects a negative reaction to specific policies we have pursued in the Middle East over the past half century. We are widely resented for going after the region's oil, and for manipulating local politics to ensure access to oil.

A major instance was the Eisenhower administration's overthrow of an elected government in Iran in 1953 because the prime minister moved to nationalize Iran's oil. Backing Israel became the bedrock of our policy in the Middle East, even as Israel displaced Palestinians from their lands.

The administration has implicitly conceded that our image in the Middle East is part of the problem by its recent initiative to do more public relations work there. The idea is to convince the region's people that we are good.

That initiative is too little, too late.

We must re-evaluate policy. But we just keep getting in deeper. Recently Bush said that the displaced Palestinians should be content to forget returning, and that Israel may keep West Bank land where it has built settlements.

These missteps reinforce the negative image we carry in the region, and the climate that encourages terrorism.

The Patriot Act is not the answer to stopping terrorism. Fair and appropriate policies in the Middle East are.

John B. Quigley is a professor of law at Ohio State |University in Columbus.

Copyright © 2005 North Jersey Media Group Inc. For more on the threat posed to our Democratic Republic posed by the Bush/Neo-Con agenda and expansion of the so-called Patriot Actt read Jennifer Van Bergen's The Twilight of Democracy or Gerry Spence's From Freedom to Slavery. -Ed.