|Several communities have passed measures defying the USA Patriot Act. (ABCNEWS.com) War on Terror Walkouts
Oakland, Flagstaff City Councils to Vote on Opposition to Patriot Act Provisions
By Dean Schabner
Dec. 17 - Two more cities could join 18 other municipalities around the country that have questioned whether the USA Patriot Act combats terror at the expense of Americans' constitutional rights.
The city council of Oakland, Calif., is scheduled to vote today on a resolution that would order city employees not to cooperate with federal investigations that are felt to violate civil liberties.
The city of Flagstaff, Ariz., also has a vote scheduled on a less harshly worded resolution that would be a statement by the city that it is concerned about potential violations of civil rights as a result of implementation of the USA Patriot Act, but stopping short of withdrawing the city's cooperation.
If both resolutions pass, the two cities would become the 19th and 20th local governments to formalize their opposition to provisions of the USA Patriot Act.
Supporters of the Oakland resolution, which include nearly two dozen organizations, say they expect the measure to pass.
"I think there is strong support," City Councilwoman Nancy Nadel said. "We can't trade our civil liberties for security and still be fighting for the freedoms our country symbolizes."
The Oakland draft resolution says in part that "to the extent legally possible, no City employee or department shall officially assist or voluntarily cooperate with investigations, interrogations, or arrest procedures, public or clandestine, that are in violation of individuals' civil rights or civil liberties as specified in the above Amendments of the United States Constitution."
It also says that "the City of Oakland affirms its strong opposition to terrorism, but also affirms that any efforts to end terrorism not be waged at the expense of the fundamental civil rights and liberties of the people of Oakland, the United States and the World."
The resolution originally put before the Flagstaff City Council was written in terms similar to the Oakland measure, but there has since been compromise to remove references to the police department and soften the criticism of the federal government, Flagstaff Mayor Joe Donaldson said.
"We wanted it to be a citizens' reminder to the government that we're concerned about terror acts and at the same time we're concerned about civil liberties," Donaldson said.
Other Cities Considering Patriot Measures
Similar resolutions have already passed in 18 other communities, including Berkeley, Santa Cruz and Sebastopol, Calif.; Denver and Boulder, Colo.; four cities in Massachusetts; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Santa Fe, N.M.; Eugene, Ore.; Burlington, Vt.; and Madison, Wis.
There are efforts under way to rally support for such resolutions in dozens of other cities, including New York, Chicago, Miami, Seattle, Boston and Portland, Ore., according to the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, a Florence, Mass.-based organization that supports "repeal of parts of the USA PATRIOT Act and Executive Orders that infringe on Constitutional rights."
There are votes on similar resolutions scheduled for January and February in Davis and Fairfax, Calif., and New Paltz, N.Y.
The USA Patriot Act was passed by overwhelming margins in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, but Nadel said she finds it hard to believe that legislators read it very carefully, because of what civil libertarians and constitutional rights groups say are the many areas where the law oversteps the bounds of proper law enforcement procedure.
Opponents of such measures say that the events of Sept. 11, 2001, are proof of the need for extraordinary measures to protect the country from terrorists.
What Cost Freedom?
Giving up civil liberties is no way to fight that fight, Nadel said.
"It is not a small price to pay," she said. "Our country was based on civil liberties. Some of these governments like the Taliban that we fought to put out of power had restrictions on what people read. If that's what we're trying to eradicate around the world, I don't think it's something we should be adopting here."
The U.S. attorney's office in San Francisco--the local arm of the Justice Department, which overseas federal investigations--declined to comment on the resolution that was up for a vote in Oakland.
Among the areas that Nadel said especially concern her in the Patriot Act are increasing the FBI's power to spy on Americans' e-mail and telephone conversations, allowing ethnic profiling, denying the right to attorney to some detainees ? which she said is "one of the most heinous aspects" of the law ? and allowing law enforcement access to records of the books people take out of the library.
The city's Public Library Commission has already passed a resolution opposing the Patriot Act.
Though the resolution's sponsors said it has strong support on the city council, not all of Oakland's residents were convinced that limiting the powers granted law enforcement to fight terrorism was the best thing for the city.
"The City Council has no business getting involved in something like this," 40-year Oakland resident Anne Woodell told The Associated Press. "We're a major port and we've got to be prepared."
Nadel, however, said that none of her constituents has spoken to her in opposition to the proposed resolution.
"They're the ones who asked me to carry it," she said. "I have not gotten a single negative response, only thanks and support."
What Is Reasonable?
In Flagstaff, though, Donaldson said the consensus was that a softer statement was needed, and that fighting the war on terror required sacrifices.
"Just about all of us realize that we're going to have to give up some freedoms to make sure we're safe from terrorism," he said. "The FBI, the Secret Service ? those guys have a mission. If they deem that an action is necessary ? if they want to know what Joe Donaldson took out from the library, if they want to know what Joe Donaldson looks at on the Internet, what Joe Donaldson eats ? well, if Joe Donaldson is reasonably suspected of terrorist activity, the Joe Donaldson needs to be looked at. But it has to be reasonable."
The mayor said that will be the thrust of the resolution. Though it is scheduled to come up for a vote today, he said the matter could be put off if it looks like the vote will not be unanimous.
"It doesn't make sense to make a statement if it's not unanimous," he said.
Overview of Changes to Legal Rights
Some of the fundamental changes to Americans' legal rights by the Bush administration and the USA Patriot Act following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks:
Freedom of Association - Government may monitor religious and political institutions without suspecting criminal activity to assist terror investigation.
Freedom of Information = Government has closed once-public immigration hearings, has secretly detained hundreds of people without charges, and has encouraged bureaucrats to resist public records requests.
Freedom of Speech - Government may prosecute librarians or keepers of any other records if they tell anyone that the government subpoenaed information related to a terror investigation.
Right to Legal Representation - Government may monitor federal prison jailhouse conversations between attorneys and clients, and deny lawyers to Americans accused of crimes.
Freedom from Unreasonable Searches - Government may search and seize Americans' papers and effects without probable cause to assist terror investigation.
Right to a Speedy and Public Trial - Government may jail Americans indefinitely without a trial.
Right to Liberty - Americans may be jailed without being charged or being able to confront witnesses against them.