Patriot Act, Victory Act, Despot Act

8/21/03

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“The cause we have chosen is just.”

With these words, John Ashcroft kicks off his tour to defend the destruction of American freedom.

Attorney General John Ashcroft is giving more than a dozen speeches around the country at taxpayer expense to promote the Patriot Act, and a new even more dangerous bill just being introduced called the Victory Act (which practically defines drug dealers as terrorists).

The Patriot Act has given the Justice Department broad new police powers, justified as necessary for the war on terror. The New York Times reported Ashcroft called for a “dramatic shift away from what he described as an old law-enforcement culture that was strapped by restrictions and limitations no longer relevant in an age of terror.”

I suppose this “old law-enforcement culture” is the one where the Bill of Rights was considered an important part of our freedom. That is what Ashcroft now considers “no longer relevant.”

It’s important to also understand some background in the war on drugs. For decades, the government has used the drug war as justification for infringing on constitutional liberties. Since drug crimes tended to not have victims, the government claimed that extra techniques were necessary to support the “compelling goverment interest” in waging the drug war.

This led to no-knock searches, asset forfeiture, warrantless searches, and a variety of other infringements, which the courts have upheld in order to support the government’s “war.”

Of course, many of these tactics have resulted in not only lost rights, but in some cases, lost lives (as I point out in Drug War Victims).

Now Ashcroft is defending many of the provisions of the Patriot Act by saying that these are similar to tools law enforcement already has for the drug war, and he just wants to use them in other areas.

At the same time, he and his silent partner Senator Orrin Hatch are also ratcheting up the Drug War by essentially defining drug activity as terrorism. This is where the new Victory Act comes in.

Hatch has just introduced a new bill…

To combat narco-terrorism, to dismantle narco-terrorist criminal enterprises, to disrupt narco-terrorist financing and money laundering schemes, to enact national drug sentencing reform, to prevent drug trafficking to children, to deter drug-related violence, to provide law enforcement with the tools needed to win the war against narco-terrorists and major drug traffickers, and for other purposes.
Short Title: “Vital Interdiction of Criminal Terrorist Organizations Act of 2003″ or the “VICTORY Act”.

An advance copy of the Victory Act is available as a pdf file. I spent a little time looking it over. Here’s one thing that jumped right out:

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The Act specifies, for example, that a person who possesses, with intent to distribute, a controlled substance, knowing that such activity, directly or indirectly, provides support to a foreign terrorist organization is subject to penalties of 20 years to life and a $4 million fine. AND… “The prosecution shall not be required to prove that any defendant knew that an organization was designated as a ‘foreign terrorist organization’.”

So, you’ve got some Columbian pot and you picked up some extra for a friend. You probably know that indirectly, some Columbian group is profiting from your $100 purchase. If the government has classified Columbian pot distributors as foreign terrorist organizations, then you can be locked up for 20 years to life.

Wait until you hear prosecutors claim that, since you must have seen the government’s propaganda ads that link pot to terrorism, then you must have known that your purchase went to aid a terrorist group, thereby qualifying you for these enhanced terrorism penalties.

The Victory Act is full of legislative language that requires a lawyer to understand (and the ability to compare multiple bills simultaneously), so I’ll leave it up to the legal folks, but when you see phrases like:

…in paragraph (1)(B)(i), by striking “specified unlawful activity” and inserting “some form of unlawful activity”…

…it doesn’t sound good. There’s also the bizarre:

If a death sentence is imposed under this section, such sentence shall not be in addition and consecutive to the punishment for the drug trafficking crime.

… and the standard Ashcroft “ends justifies the means” perversion of the constitution and the judiciary…

A court may not grant a motion to suppress the contents of a wire or oral communication, or evidence derived therefrom, unless the court finds that the violation of this chapter involved bad faith by law enforcement.

…which basically states that it doesn’t matter if the evidence was obtained illegally as long as the officer can convince the court that they thought they were doing it right.

ABC has some additional analysis of the Victory Act, including the fact that it calls for broad subpoena powers without the need for a judge’s approval. American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney Jameel Jaffer has said: “Absolutely nothing would prevent the attorney general from using these subpoenas to obtain the records of people who have no connection to terrorism, drug trafficking or crime of any sort.”

The ACLU has a lot of excellent resources, including ways to get active regarding these extraordinary government powers. Visit their Safe and Free site.

With some effort on our part, we can stop these provisions. There is already a growing level of concern from all sides of the political spectrum. Ashcroft’s approach to justice violates core principles of both the Democratic and Republican parties.

Considering the ways that John Ashcroft, the Justice Department, and its Drug Enforcement Agency operate, perhaps they should be considered a terrorist organization.


(Thanks to atrios and Dodd for some of the inspiration for this piece.)

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