Senate Starts Terror-Law Inquiry; Effect on Rights Is Key Concern

Article excerpt


The Senate Judiciary Committee will begin a series of oversight hearings today to determine whether federal laws are adequate to prevent and respond to acts of terrorism, and if the USA Patriot Act harms security, privacy and civil liberties.

Sought by committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, and the panel's ranking Democrat, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the hearing will target the effectiveness of laws aimed at protecting America and focus on concerns over whether the Patriot Act violates principles of free speech, due process and equal protection under the law.

The scheduled witnesses are Assistant Attorney General Christopher Wray, who heads the Justice Department's criminal division; U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald of Illinois; and U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty of Virginia.

President Bush has vigorously supported the act, calling for expanded Justice Department authority to eliminate "unreasonable obstacles to investigating and prosecuting terrorism."

He wants the act expanded to include administrative subpoenas without prior grand jury review; the ability to hold accused terrorists without bail; and expand the scope of the federal death penalty in terrorism cases.

Enacted after September 11 to broaden investigative powers, the act has been criticized by federal, state and local lawmakers and has been the subject of lawsuits by civil liberties advocates.

Some Democratic and Republican members of Congress, the National Rifle Association, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and others assert that the act allows government to invade people's private lives. …