Saturday, December 17, 2005

Short-Term Memory Loss

Here’s a simple question: do you think the Republicans would allow legislation like the USA PATRIOT act to become law if it had been proposed by a Democratic president?

It’s a trick question. Bill Clinton tried to get Congress to enact anti-terror legislation in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, and the Republicans would have none of it.

President Clinton’s proposals would have expanded pre-trial detention and allowed more federal wiretaps of terrorism suspects, eased deportation of foreigners convicted of crimes, allowed the detention of aliens convicted or suspected of crimes, let the President criminalize fund-raising for terrorism, and revived visa denial provisions to keep dangerous people out of the US.

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Clinton’s “Omnibus Counter Terrorism Act of 1995” would have:

“[P]rovided clear Federal criminal jurisdiction for any international terrorist attack that might occur in the United States [including] Federal criminal jurisdiction over terrorists who use the United States as the place from which to plan terrorist attacks overseas.” Allowed deportation of “alien terrorists without risking the disclosure of national security information or techniques.”

It would have “prevent[ed] fundraising in the United States that supports international terrorist activities overseas,” implemented “an international treaty requiring the insertion of a chemical agent into plastic explosives when manufactured to make them detectable,” and granted “more tools to federal law enforcement agencies fighting terrorism.”

These proposed “tools” would have included: Providing for “disclosures by consumer reporting agencies to the FBI for counterintelligence and counterterrorism purposes.” Also “relaxed standard[s] for obtaining ‘pen registers’ and ‘trap and trace’ device orders which already exists in routine criminal cases, to national security cases.”

Note: a “‘pen register’ is a device which records the number dialed on a telephone” and a “‘trap and trace’ device is similar to ‘Caller ID,’ providing law enforcement with the telephone number from which a call originates. [This] would not permit law enforcement to monitor actual conversations being conducted.”

Clinton’s proposals “would require hotel/motel and common carriers such as airlines and bus companies to provide records to the FBI pursuant to authorized national security requests just as they must do now for virtually all state and local law enforcement. [This because] FBI has found that, while some of these entities voluntarily provide such information, an increasing number refuse, absent a court order, a subpoena, or other legal protection.

Clinton also sought to “fund costs associated cases which arise in connection with terrorism crises, including logistics and other support” and he wanted to “Create an interagency Domestic Counterterrorism Center headed by the FBI” to “establish a partnership effort between the Justice Department, including the FBI, and other federal and state law enforcement authorities to coordinate [ant-terror] efforts within the United States.”

President Clinton “directed the Attorney General to conduct this assessment and report her recommendations in 60 days. The assessment has already begun” and directed “the FBI Director, the Attorney General, and the National Security Adviser to prepare a presidential decision directive authorizing any and all further steps necessary to combat foreign and domestic terrorism.

The Clinton Administration also submitted “New Legislative Proposals” which called for investigations and hiring “approximately 1000 new agents, prosecutors, and other federal law enforcement and support personnel to investigate, deter, and prosecute terrorist activity,” and would have made it more difficult for terrorists to commit – and easier for law enforcement officers to detect, prevent and investigate – terrorist acts.

It would have required “the inclusion of microscopic particles in certain raw materials, thereby permitting law enforcement to trace the source of the explosive even after a device has been detonated” and “permitted military participation in crime-fighting involving weapons of mass destruction … to permit military participation in criminal cases involving chemical, biological, and other weapons of mass destruction; areas in which the military has specialized expertise.”

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Other Clinton Administration anti-terrorism legislative proposals include: The Comprehensive Antiterrorism Act of 1995, The Counter Terrorism Technology Research Act of 1995, The Antiterrorism Amendments Act of 1995, The Effective Death Penalty and Antiterrorism Act of 1995, and the Senate and House versions of The Omnibus Counter Terrorism Act of 1995.

According to CNN, Republicans refused to cooperate with President Clinton’s efforts to protect us from terrorist attacks: “July 30, 1996 President Clinton urged Congress Tuesday to act swiftly in developing anti-terrorism legislation before its August recess. But while the president pushed for quick legislation, Republican lawmakers hardened their stance against some of the proposed anti-terrorism measures.

“Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, doubted that the Senate would rush to action before they recess this weekend. The Senate needs to study all the options, he said, and trying to get it done in the next three days would be tough. One key GOP senator was more critical, calling a proposed study of chemical markers in explosives ‘a phony issue.'” [Mike Hersh.com]

The most maddening thing about this is not that we didn’t pass this legislation ten years ago, it’s that it didn’t get a chance to be considered because the Republicans for purely political reasons wouldn’t consider it. All their concerns about civil liberties is just a steaming pile of horseshit; they just didn’t want to let Bill Clinton get away with doing something that might actually show that the Democrats weren’t a bunch of lily-livered Kum-by-Yah-singing hippies who tried to “feel the pain” of the oppressed. They had to wait until they got one of theirs in office. Notwithstanding 9/11 and the evidence that the Bush administration was fully aware of the abilities of the likes of Osama bin Laden and the existence of Al-Qaeda, the Republicans have shown that they don’t give a rat’s ass about the finer points of protecting privacy as long as they get to write the laws, and they have no objection whatsoever to expanding the presidential powers to a level not seen since the Nixon administration as long as one of theirs is in office.

The arrogance is palpable. The response to the news that the president withheld intelligence evidence from Congress is that there are certain members who can’t be trusted with that kind of information, and anyway, the White House knows best. Yeah, that idea of shared powers and the people electing their representatives to do their business is so 18th century. The reaction to the news that President Bush authorized wiretaps on Americans has been an echo of Nixon’s “if the president does it, that means it is not illegal.” Nixon’s term came to an abrupt end because of attitudes like that, but thirty years later it’s back, and so are the defenders of it: “The president needs every bit of power he can have to defend America.” Try selling that to the Republicans when there’s a Democrat in the White House. Oh, wait; we did, and chances are that if President Clinton had tried to do anything that the current administration is doing, he would have been impeached and rightly so. But the standards are different for the Republicans. So would somebody please give the president a blowjob so we can get this over with?