Curbs on liberties opposed by Portland City Council, labor

The fight against terrorism must not be waged at the expense of essential rights and liberties.

So said Portland City Council in a unanimous resolution Oct. 29, passed with the support of the Northwest Oregon Labor Council and the Oregon AFL-CIO.

The resolution is aimed at the USA PATRIOT Act, passed by Congress shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The law authorizes indefinite detention of non-citizens without charge, indefinite incarceration of citizens designated as “enemy combatants” without the right to an attorney, and so-called “sneak and peek” searches — police searches and seizures without notifying subjects that their property has been searched. It gives the government access to citizens’ medical, financial and educational records, even lists of what library books they checked out, without any judicial oversight.

Over 200 other communities have passed similar resolutions urging Congress to reform or repeal the act. At its September 2003 convention, the Oregon AFL-CIO also passed such a resolution, declaring that the “safety of Americans can be secured without sacrificing our constitutional and human rights.”

At the City Council hearing on the resolution, Oregon AFL-CIO Research Director Lynn-Marie Crider testified on behalf of the state federation and the Northwest Oregon Labor Council, which also approved the resolution.

“Over the last two years, union members and their leaders have become increasingly concerned as laws protecting individual rights of citizens and residents of this country are infringed in the name of public safety and the war on terrorism,” Crider told commissioners.

“We believe that conscientious, skilled law enforcement officers can and will deal with the threat of terrorism without engaging in activities that threaten individual freedom and penalize political groups and trade unions and their members.”

Portland City Commissioner Eric Sten told listeners the USA PATRIOT Act is “spitting in the face of all that we stand for.”

“I believe much of this agenda was shaped before Sept. 11,” Sten said. “It came much too fast and too hard to have been developed after the attacks.”

The 342-page USA PATRIOT Act was introduced six weeks after the Sept. 11 attack, passed by the House the same day without debate or amendment, passed the Senate the following day 98 to 1, and was signed the day after that by President George Bush.

Oregon Representatives Darlene Hooley and Greg Walden and both senators, voted for it; Representatives Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio and David Wu voted against it. USA PATRIOT is an acronym that stands for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.

“I don’t think I need to prove my patriotism to anybody,” said City Commissioner Randy Leonard, “but I have deeper and deeper misgivings, not only about the PATRIOT Act and the war on terror, but about this president’s ability to lead us to unity.”

Both the AFL-CIO and Portland City Council resolutions support Senate Bill 1552, co-sponsored by Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden and Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, which would require greater evidence before various kinds of surveillance would be authorized.

Meanwhile, the Bush Administration is working on a proposal to expand USA PATRIOT act police powers.

Drafts of the bill being developed by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft include provisions to strip Americans of U.S. citizenship, deport immigrants without charge, create a national DNA database, and tap anyone’s phone and e-mail without a warrant. It would also authorize secret detentions and expand the death penalty to 15 new offenses.

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