The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT) Act of 2001 was the subject of discussion and debate last Tuesday evening in Portland State University’s student union Vanport room.
“Since this is a thick and murky document, this forum was called to educate on the issue and its potential effect on ordinary people,” a PSU delegate said in introduction.
Dave Fidanque of the American Civil Liberties Union opened with a cautionary anecdote, “knowledge of what’s been done in the name of national security in the past-arrests of pamphleteers protesting the unconstitutionality of the draft during WW I, the internment of 120,000 Japanese U.S. citizens (in response to 1942’s attack on Pearl Harbor under Executive Order 9066) -in reflection on those shameful acts, wouldn’t we prefer that future generations could look back and say, ‘we finally did it right’ in the face of crisis?”
Former Federal Bureau of Investigations agent Charles Matthews was the lone speaker in support of the Act’s provisions. The positions of his four fellow panelists ranged from skepticism to contempt, echoed by the audience’s questions and concerns.
“Controversial provisions of the Patriot Act like section 215, which permits an agent to collect library records, simply modernized antiquated statutes which were long overdue for consideration before 9/11,” Matthews said. “People in these terror network change cell phones the way you and I change underwear. There had to be a way to legally put taps on people, not equipment.”
Other provisions, including section 802, which forbade advising organizations deemed terrorist by the Secretary of State, have been held unconstitutional on the grounds of free speech violation and that it would prohibit even counsel for nonviolent change,
“I don’t believe that there is another entity in the world as scrutinized and reviewed than the FBI,” Matthews said. “No investigation is predicated on First-amendment-protected speech, but by evidence that the subject is an agent of a foreign power.”
“These provisions were crucial to getting the guilty pleas of the Portland Seven.” Matthews said. “It should go without saying that the majority of Muslims worship peaceably.”
“But how do you make the distinction between a terrorist and a freedom fighter?” the session’s Q&A moderator asked. “The U.S. has changed its position repeatedly, even thinking the Taliban were a pretty good thing in the ’80s when, by a ripple effect, their activities helped dismantle the Soviet Union.”
“As citizens of this country and with the enactment of its constitution, you’ve relinquished the right to revolution,” Matthews said. “You can change this government by other means than taking up arms against it. It is the government’s role to preserve its form of administration indefinitely.”
“We do not have an immigration problem in the U.S. We have an access problem. Five-hundred million people come in and out of the U.S. each year,” Matthews said. “None of those responsible for the attacks on 9/11 said, ‘I’m entering the country to kill people.'”
“Imagine results if these efforts were directed constructively, perhaps developing foreign language skills? Settling our debt with the U.N.?” Liza Wilcox of Hate Free Zone Said. Her organization advocates community mobilization to repeal provisions of UPA.