Hit & Run



From the Wash Post account of Attorney General John Ashcroft's recent defense of the PATRIOT ACT:

According to a 29-page report to Congress released by Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, Justice Department terrorism investigations have resulted in charges against 310 people and have yielded 179 convictions or guilty pleas. The report says the Patriot Act was central to those cases.

The report also chronicles numerous instances in which the law has been used in traditional criminal investigations, from child pornography prosecutions to the rescue of a kidnapped 88-year-old woman.

Whole thing here.

Go here for the Justice Department's report. I've yet to read the whole report carefully--I've only barely skimmed it so far--so I can't begin to evaluate its main claim that absent PATRIOT law enforcement would not have been able to stop X number of terrorist actions.

But one odd thing pops out even on a cursory glance. Justice is essentially a pushing the old orange juice line--"It's not just for breakfast anymore." Hence, the department proudly points out that beyond all the supposedly invalauble help PATRIOT has been in foiling terrorist acts since 9/11, "it has been extremely helpful in combating the sexual abuse of children" (pg. 19) and "has improved the speed of obtaining search warrants for electronic mail…[in non-terrorism-related] time-sensitive criminal investigations" (pgs. 20-21).

While such claims are clearly intended to buttress support for the controversial law (parts of which are increasingly under fire in Congress), they make me sweat more than a little bit. One great fear when PATRIOT was passed was that no one really knew how far-reaching it was. Certainly, it should strike people as odd that a supposedly conservative administration is crowing about how a law passed for one specific function is being more widely applied. Wasn't it conservatives, after all, who got all pissed (rightly, I might add), when RICO laws were applied to, say, anti-abortion groups rather than the organized crime syndicates for which they were intended?