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Ashcroft Begins Patriot Act Tour

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Ashcroft Begins Patriot Act Tour

Attorney General John Ashcroft Begins Tour in Support of Anti-Terrorism Act

The Associated Press


At his first stop on a tour in support of the USA Patriot Act, Attorney General John Ashcroft told police officers and prosecutors Wednesday that the law made possible a series of recent terrorism arrests.

Speaking at the city's museum on the Constitution, near Independence Hall, Ashcroft cited the arrest of three men accused of plotting to smuggle shoulder-fired missiles and the successful prosecution of a man who tried to enter Afghanistan to fight U.S. troops as examples of the law at work.

The probes would have been more difficult if not for provisions of the Patriot Act that made it easier for intelligence agencies, criminal investigators and prosecutors to share information, Ashcroft said.

He said the nation learned the cost of a poorly coordinated law enforcement community during the Sept. 11 attacks.

"For the living, those hallowed places are a warning," Ashcroft said. "When the government falls short of its responsibility, Americans pay the price with their lives."

Ashcroft's monthlong tour of more than a dozen cities, including Cleveland, Detroit and Des Moines, Iowa, is part of a campaign to counter criticism that the law has given the government too much power to secretly monitor its citizens.

Among other things, the law gives anti-terrorism investigators enhanced powers to wiretap suspects, search their property without immediately informing them and get access to business records.

About 80 protesters gathered outside the National Constitution Center during Ashcroft's speech Wednesday.

Evelyn Alloy, 87, of Philadelphia, held aloft a cardboard sign with the word, "Fascist."

"It means that there is a certain level of authoritarianism in Washington right now that is frightening," she said. "We have a president, and a Congress and a Supreme Court who have shown that they are not concerned with our rights."

Legislators in Alaska, Hawaii and Vermont and more than 150 communities around the country have passed anti-Patriot Act measures. The Republican-led House, by an overwhelming margin, recently passed an amendment to restrict so-called "sneak and peek" searches that allow for the delayed notification of the search target. Some lawmakers want to accelerate the law's 2005 expiration date.

"There is a great deal of unease about how these new laws are being used," said Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

Ashcroft contends that Americans broadly support the Patriot Act, citing opinion polls and the lopsided votes in favor when the measure passed Congress in 2001. Justice Department officials say the opposition is being generated by a vocal minority that has spread false impressions of the law.

The Justice Department campaign includes a special Internet site called "Preserving Life and Liberty" that starts with a quote from the Declaration of Independence. The site includes key provisions in the Patriot Act as well as its entire text, favorable quotes from politicians and selected positive stories about the law.

As part of the campaign, all 94 U.S. attorneys around the country are being encouraged to hold town hall-style events to discuss the Patriot Act and its role in preventing terror.

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