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Friday, March 12, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Guest columnist
Stop terrorizing citizens under guise of Patriot Act

By Carl Jeffers
Special to The Times

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During the State of the Union address, President Bush was trying to set up another point by starting off with the statement — "next year some provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire." But before he could get to his main point, Democrats throughout the chamber started applauding wildly, and taking advantage of the opportunity to demonstrate their displeasure with the Patriot Act.

In fact, displeasure with the Patriot Act is not limited to Democrats. Conservative Republicans have voiced real concern about the potential invasion of personal privacy and opportunity to Americans that many see as the real consequence of the Patriot Act.

The Patriot Act allows the government to detain American citizens without notifying them of charges simply by designating them as enemy combatants. It also allows the search of your home without letting you know the government was ever there — let alone providing advance notice.

When former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neil criticized the administration's lack of evidence of weapons of mass destruction, some critics ironically suggested that his personal fortune be frozen under provisions of the Patriot Act. And while we were at the orange alert level, the government requested the guest lists from all Las Vegas hotels, out of concern the city was a target. Let's be frank. There are millions of American men who do not want their names released from guests lists at Vegas hotels — and it has nothing to do with terrorism!

We need a comprehensive review of the entire Department of Homeland Security program of heightened alerts and preventive measures to make sure that we do not allow the government to become overzealous under the guise of fighting terrorism. Let's fight terrorism, but let's not terrorize our own citizens in the process.

We came out of the orange alert level that was in place during the entire holiday season, a status that cost close to $400 million (some critics say close to $1 billion) and certainly made holiday travel far more unpleasant for millions of Americans. In hindsight, it is easy to say it was unnecessary since nothing happened.

But I am not saying that. I was questioning the motivation of the orange alert and why we went to that status. I was concerned that part of the decision was based on getting a political message to the American people at the most opportune time — Christmas.

But let's examine a more specific analysis. Tom Ridge, the Homeland Security secretary, said as justification for going to the orange alert status that the threat from al-Qaida "was as high now as at any time since 9/11." He talked of specific chatter being picked up involving specific airlines, actual flights and specific methods terrorists would be using. Yet, during the entire orange alert status, we had not one arrest, not one thwarted effort, not one actual discovery of anything remotely related to specific actions that would have in any way validated the reports of chatter that moved this country into such a costly orange alert status.

The terrorists now know that all they have to do is send a few e-mails saying they should use planes again to turn us upside down with fear and force us to spend hundreds of millions of dollars. OK folks: Get ready for Easter, Memorial Day, and July Fourth, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas every year. That is not winning the war on terrorism.

The government has now announced a new program, called CAPPS, whose objective is to review and grade personal data on every American citizen who flies and then assign a grade or color code level to each of us to determine whether we get extra security or whether we can fly at all.

Travelers will provide personal security information, which will then be checked not only with law enforcement but also with credit bureaus as part of the evaluation. Frankly, no American should be denied boarding on a flight to Las Vegas because they are two months behind on their Sears bill. Maybe the purpose of the Las Vegas trip is to help them get the account current. It is simply not the government's business.

The administration tells us often that we cannot let the terrorists win. If this is the new America, the terrorists may have already won, even if they never launch another attack.

Carl Jeffers is a Seattle- and Los Angeles-based columnist and is KIRO-AM political analyst for the 2004 campaign. He hosts a Chicago radio talk-show program and is an MSNBC-TV political analyst. Contact him at cjintel@juno.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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