Federal News Service
HEADLINE: HEARING OF THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY
SUBJECT: CRIMINAL TERRORISM INVESTIGATIONS AND PROSECUTIONS
LOCATION: 226 DIRKSEN SENATE OFFICE BUILDING, WASHINGTON, D.C.
WITNESSES: CHRISTOPHER WRAY, CHIEF OF THE CRIMINAL DIVISION, DOJ PATRICK FITZGERALD, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS PAUL MCNULTY, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, EASTERN DISTRICT OF VIRGINIA
SEN. HERB KOHL (D-WI): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. We're here this morning to review the Justice Department's efforts to investigate and prosecute suspected terrorists under the Patriot Act. Many of us are uneasy with the perceptions generated by the Patriot Act; namely, that federal law enforcement is more powerful, more intrusive and less concerned with constitutional rights than ever before. This concern is shared by many Americans. In fact, a recent poll showed that 52 percent of Americans feel that the Patriot Act has gone too far in compromising constitutional rights.
With the increased power of the Patriot Act comes increased responsibility, not to chill or infringe upon the civil liberties of law-abiding citizen. We are concerned that the administration perhaps does not get this balance right. Although fighting terrorism was the rationale for enacting the Patriot Act, we are troubled with the aggressive application of this statute to non-terrorism cases. Critics contend that the administration is using terrorism as a guise to pursue a wider law enforcement agenda. Indeed, a Justice Department report confirmed that hundreds of non-terrorism cases were pursued under the Patriot Act. For example, the New York Times reported that one provision of the Patriot Act, specifically a new section criminalizing threats to mass transportation systems, was used by authorities to sentence a 20-year-old lovesick woman to two years in federal prison for leaving threatening notes on a cruise ship, simply because she wanted the boat to return to port so she could see her boyfriend. Though such hoaxes should be taken seriously, we must ask if the Patriot Act is really intended to send such individuals to federal prison.
Arguably, the Patriot Act has made federal law enforcement more invasive in the lives of Americans than at any other time in our history. For example, the Patriot Act allows the Treasury secretary to require banks to keep even closer tabs over their customers. This mandate has wrankled many banks and citizens alike, forcing them to question the need for these provisions in the war on terrorism.
We need to be reassured that the good the Patriot Act has brought outweighs the bad, and whether there has been overuse or abuse of the new powers granted by this law. We should examine whether or not the Patriot Act needs to be reined in. So we look forward to having these questions addressed by our witnesses here today and at future hearings which will address the administration's efforts to combat terrorism. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.