DALLAS – In an effort to intimidate the Dallas City Council to not go on record against the excesses of the USA Patriot Act, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) threatened the city’s ability to obtain Homeland Security funding.
On Jan. 14 the City Council voted unanimously for another delay to its vote on a resolution opposing the most reactionary parts of the Patriot Act. Attorney Chip Pitts, spokesperson for the Bill of Rights Defense Committee of Dallas, laid the blame for the council’s continuing hesitation explicitly on right-winger Sessions.
Pitts told reporters that Sessions had been given a special meeting with the council when it first began considering the petitions for a resolution. He said, “There is no question why they are delaying the vote. A lot of federal pressure has been brought to bear. An explicit threat was made by Rep. Pete Sessions. … Pete Sessions and his ideological and partisan colleagues have threatened the city of Dallas that we won’t be able to get our own money for safety if we express our opinion on this vital public issue.”
Congress passed the Patriot Act right after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks without careful study of the over-300-page document. Civil liberties advocates warned at the time that the Patriot Act would severely curtail the Bill of Rights and the right to dissent.
To date, 235 cities and the National League of Cities, representing 18,000 cities and towns, have/ already passed similar resolutions. In addition, many in Congress who originally voted for law have since changed their position.
“Most of the country is overwhelmingly on record against these excesses and intrusions into our rights of privacy,” Pitts affirmed.
Responding to questions, Pitts named some of the worst abuses of the Patriot Act, which gives police agencies the legal power to:
• Secretly search your house
• Gather library and bookstore records.
• Arrest and hold people in indefinite detention.
Most recently a federal judge ruled that a portion of the Patriot Act is unconstitutional. This is the first court decision to declare a section of the post-Sept. 11 anti-terrorism law unconstitutional. The judge’s ruling said the law, as written, does not differentiate between impermissible advice on violence and the encouragement of peaceful, nonviolent means to achieve goals.
“The USA Patriot Act places no limitation on the type of expert advice and assistance which is prohibited and instead bans the provision of all expert advice and assistance regardless of its nature,” the judge said.
In his State of the Union speech George W. Bush urged Congress to renew key provisions of the act which are set to expire at the end of 2005. Civil liberties advocates said they expect the battle to really heat up next year. However, the placement of the issue in the State of the Union speech means Bush plans to use the “legal centerpiece” for his so-called war on terrorism in his re-election campaign. Opposition to widening government powers is widespread and includes part of Bush’s conservative base.
Rep. Sessions sits on the House Select Committee on Homeland Security. He was supposed to address Homeland Security funding when he weighed in on the city’s pending resolution, calling the officials “hypocritical” if they pass it.
But Mayor Pro Tem John Loza, who helped bring the resolution before the council, said the city must address concerns about civil liberties. The act “does affect the rights of the citizens of Dallas,” he said.
Pitts gave the example of Dallas resident Jana Zeeb, “whose husband was good enough to fly President Bush and has been held for almost a year.” He explained that Zeeb and her husband operated a flight instructor school near Dallas’ Love Field, but that he had been arrested “because he was a Muslim, an Algerian.” Pitts said, “He was good enough to fly President Bush then, but now he’s a terrorist? He has been arrested without any kind of justification. It’s time to either confront him with the charges, or let him go!”
Pitts said, “Powerful forces arrayed against us are not going to succeed in taking away the rights of all Dallas citizens.” The council has scheduled its vote for Feb. 25. “It’s time to take our country back and preserve the Bill of Rights,” Pitts concluded.
The author can be reached at email@example.com.
Terrie Albano contributed to this article.