AskWHYBlog: Carol Harvey In San Francisco

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Sunday, December 19, 2004

WHO IN CONGRESS SIGNS BILLS THEY DON'T READ?







QUESTION: Who Are the Members of Congress Who Signed Us Onto The Patriot Act Without Reading It?

Back in early fall 2004, I rushed to the movies at 1000 Van Ness in San Francisco and stood in long eager lines to see Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 911." I was shocked when Michigan Democratic Representative, John Conyers explained how Congress could pass the Patriot Act without reading it.

"Sit down, my son," Conyers told Moore. "We don't read most of the bills."

In the wash of intervening horrific events of Election and War, I shoved this stunning factoid to the back of my mind. The subject came up again tonight, Friday, December 17, 2004, on the PBS NOW program during Bill Moyer's interview of the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Anthony Romero.

Romero has been in the news a lot lately for his investigations of the Pentagon for military torture.

Additionally, Moyers reported that Romero has been "filing suits around the country to find out who is being investigated under the Patriot Act."

Romero defined the ACLU's role stating, "We are there to make sure that the guarantees in the Bill of Rights and the Constitution are not just paper guarantees. They are not just things that we read about and file away in our school papers. Those are things that we live and we breathe and we act on."

He agreed with Moyers that terrorism is here to stay, saying, "This war on terror is unlike any other war we have fought before.

"The questions that Americans and our Congress and our leaders will have to ask is 'How do we want to live in our Democracy in the age of terror?' We want to make sure that we have safety and security, but that alone can't be the sole charge of our government officials.

"We want to make sure that those concerns are equally balanced and represented with our concern for freedom.

"We are Americans dedicated to the Rule of Law," he stated emphatically. "We are Americans who believe that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights is what makes us strong as a nation."

Romero pointed out that many Americans have been asked whether we are willing to give up the freedoms of immigrants, arresting, detaining, and deporting them in the service of national security "for reasons that had nothing to do with 911."

However, Americans have never been asked whether we are willing to give up our own freedoms for national security. "That is where the fallacy in bargaining comes out."

Romero pointed out the awesome Powers given to the Government under the Patriot act, the seizing of personal information: library records, financial, and employment records.

"The question," he said, "is not as much 'How are these Powers now being used?' The question is: 'Why are those Powers there in the first place?'

Romero stated that John Ashcroft told Congress he had never tried to use these powers but pointed out that these Powers lie there "like a loaded gun," available for use at any time. Romero knew of a couple of instances where the Government did try to use these powers against an individual citizen.

The question is: 'Is stockpiling law enforcement powers that don't make us any safer good for our Democracy?' Shouldn't we be asking our Government officials to really go through the job of justifying to the American public, 'Are these measures necessary?' 'Are they effective?'"

"And then secondly, we better ask them, 'Are they defensible?' 'Is what you give up worth what you get back in return?'

"That's the debate we ought to have in Congress." He pointed out that we did not have that debate on the Patriot Act.

Bill Moyers recalled the significant fact that many members of Congress admitted that they voted for the Patriot Act, and only read it later, "if at all."

Romero emphasized that at that moment in time the Congress were eager to stand behind the President against terrorism, unable to "ask the tough questions." Were they perhaps incapable of reason because they were afraid? Romero said, they "refused to kick the tire on core issues and core values."

He suggested we ought to keep the parts of the Patriot Act that work to protect us, and that it is up to the American Electorate and the Citizens of the United States to insist of the Congress and the President that the entirety of the Patriot Act be wholly defensible, that it be used to protect our freedoms instead of taking them away.

For a complete transcript of the Moyers-Romero interview, click here, and scroll down through the complete transcript of the NOW program on December 17, 2004, Bill Moyer's last.

See this BLOG for the answer to the question: 'What Are the Names of Members of Congress Who Signed Us Onto The Patriot Act Without Reading It?' Judging from John conyer's comment to Michael Moore, it is a fair assumption that all Congress members who signed onto the Patriot Act did so without reading the entire Act with all its fine print beforehand.