Patriot Act debate comes to Portland

A former U.S. assistant attorney general who penned the controversial USA Patriot Act will speak in Portland Thursday night as part of a forum on civil liberties.

Professor Viet Dinh, who served as assistant attorney general under President George W. Bush and now teaches law at Georgetown University, was hired by the Justice Department in 2001, originally to assist with judicial nominations, but was drafted to work on the USA Patriot Act shortly after Sept. 11.

Dinh, who has remained a strong supporter of the USA Patriot Act, will share his views on both Sept. 11, 2001 and the Patriot Act’s effects on civil liberties at an event at the Oregon Convention Center, hosted by the Civil Rights Section of the Oregon State Bar.

Following a presentation by Dinh, there will be a panel discussion on the impact of the Patriot Act on civil liberties. The panel will consist of legal experts from a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives, including Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer, civil rights attorney Charlie Hinkle and Timothy J. Keefer, chief council for the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The panel discussion will mark yet another chapter in the ongoing controversy surrounding the USA Patriot Act. The act, passed just 45 days after September 11, 2001, gave the federal government sweeping new powers in using surveillance techniques, and has been a continual source of controversy ever since. Proponents of the act claim that the powers provided by the act are necessary to combat terrorism, but opponents have characterized it as an outrageous affront to civil liberties.

“9/11 will reverberate through our country for decades, perhaps most notably in its impact on civil liberties,” Oregon State Bar President William G. Carter said in a press release. “It is imperative that we have a dialogue about these issues, and to have the author of such a powerful instrument here to discuss it with Oregonians is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Many attorneys who work with civil liberties issues are expected to attend, but event planners hope that the general public will take interest in the event. Both Dinh’s speech and the panel discussion are open to everyone and free of charge.

“I invite and encourage members of the public to attend this important event,” John Clinton, chair of the Civil Rights Section said in an online statement. “The issues to be discussed at this forum are among the most important facing our nation in recent history.”

The presentation will begin at 7 p.m. at the Oregon Convention Center, 777 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.