Questioning PATRIOT-ism | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Questioning PATRIOT-ism

Who's undermining efforts to undermine law undermining civil liberties?

The USA PATRIOT Act gives law enforcement increased power to wiretap, monitor e-mail, search homes and obtain personal information when there's suspicion of terrorist intent. It has been used locally to bust a drug ring. But the controversial law itself is at the center of City Hall's latest mystery: Who's backing various alternative anti-PATRIOT resolutions circulating in City Council?

Councilman Bill Peduto is about to introduce a resolution that would condemn PATRIOT, ask the Pittsburgh police not to utilize its powers, and ask Mayor Tom Murphy to seek information about other agencies' use of the act within city limits. (See Political Footballs, "PATRIOT Games," Feb. 12.) U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan has met with councilors, urging them not to pass the resolution. Buchanan says it would drive a wedge between Pittsburgh police and other law enforcement agencies, like the FBI.


City Paper obtained an alternative resolution that Buchanan left with at least one councilor. The resolution notes that people "have raised issues" regarding PATRIOT and other "national security measures." It lists telephone and Internet surveillance, searches without notice to the subject, the designation of groups as "terrorist organizations," indefinite detention of non-citizens, enhanced FBI access to personal records, and the designation of American citizens as "enemy combatants" among the concerns. But it doesn't ask city police to eschew PATRIOT's use, or call for a repeal of PATRIOT, as hundreds of municipalities nationwide have done. Instead, it expresses council's "abhorrence of, and opposition to, global terrorism," and support for "fundamental, constitutionally protected civil rights," and pledges to "monitor" the balance between safety and security.


Buchanan, an appointee of President George W. Bush who has been lauded for using PATRIOT's powers to bust a drug lord, confirms giving the resolution to at least one councilor. But she says it wasn't written by her, but rather given to her by Council President Gene Ricciardi. "I don't think city council should be passing any resolution" against PATRIOT, Buchanan says, but at least the one she shared around "is much better than the Peduto resolution."


Ricciardi, though, is floating a resolution with some similar language, but including a pledge that "the City of Pittsburgh will vigorously resist any unconstitutional acts against its residents under the USA PATRIOT Act." It lists Ricciardi and Peduto as sponsors.


But Peduto says he's never spoken with Ricciardi about co-sponsoring that resolution, and doesn't think it's nearly strong enough. As for the resolution Buchanan has passed around, he speculates that the effort to undermine anti-PATRIOT resolutions like his may even emanate from the White House. "There's no name on it, but at first blush, [the sponsor] would seem to be [Attorney General] John Ashcroft, or [Bush political advisor] Karl Rove."

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