Participation in Government Research Paper

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Patriot Act

Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States by violent fanatics, the federal government passed legislation which was designed to protect American citizens and to prevent further deaths. One piece of legislation, Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, more simplistically known as the Patriot Act, has been at the center of vehement debate on both sides, in support of and in opposition of the document. Among the many provisions of the act, some of the most contentious include: reduction of restrictions of law enforcement agencies, allows the Secretary of the Treasury to regulate financial transactions, and gave further powers to law enforcement and immigration officials in allowing them to detain, arrest, or deport immigrants who have been suspected of terrorist activities (Schulhofer 2005,-page vi). Following 9/11, there was a national grief over the tragic events and a communal fear of what might happen next. The feeling was, what Fiona de Londras (2011) called "the dominance of an almost caricatured patriotism" (page 11). Consequently, laws were passed which have infringed on the civil rights of American citizens and allowed for illegal actions to be perpetrated against Americans in the name of national security.

The founding fathers of the United States of America created a system wherein the central government would serve as overseers, but that most of the decisions for the governance of the population would be the responsibility of the state and local governments. More and more the federal government has expanded its powers and limited the strengths of the state governments to create and enforce legislation. There was a time when the United States' government was an extremely powerful entity. In response to an increased amount of violent crime during the early portion of the twentieth century, government agencies were founded which would provide security which was not possible if left to local or state police departments. Under the supervision of the likes of J. Edgar Hoover, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and then later the Central Intelligence Agencies became supremely powerful entities in the United States. As the saying goes, absolute power corrupts absolutely. During the Cold War, the FBI and CIA engaged in highly suspicious activities. Among the myriad of criminal conduct that is reported to have been enacted by agents, the authorities were accused of crimes as vast as murder, extortion, and blackmail, using wire-tapping and bribery in order to remove opposition and secure further powers. When news of such corruption came to light, the response of the American people was revulsion and anger. Following the conclusion of the Cold War and the major disarmament of formerly enemy nations, the FBI, CIA, and other government authorities became largely impotent (Etzioni 2005,-page 6). Therefore, they were highly ineffective and insufficient in their cause of protecting the national security and the safety of Americans, and ultimately irresponsible for later events.

According to the government, September 11th happened because the federal government did not have adequate resources to identify the potential threat and prevent the bloodshed. The government petitioned successfully for the creation of a Department of Homeland Security and for the aforementioned decrease in restrictions facing authorities who are working towards national security. The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network office of the United States Treasury states that the purpose of the Patriot Act is:

To deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world, to enhance law enforcement investigatory tools, and other purposes, some of which include: to strengthen U.S. measures to prevent, detect and prosecute international money laundering and financing of terrorism; to subject to special scrutiny foreign jurisdictions, foreign financial institutions, and classes of international transactions or types of accounts that are susceptible to criminal abuse; to require all appropriate elements of the financial services industry to report potential money laundering; and to strengthen measures to prevent use of the U.S. financial system for personal gain by corrupt foreign officials and facilitate repatriation of stolen assets to the citizens of countries to whom such assets belong (2012).

The language that the government uses in defining the act illustrates exactly how the legislation was fed to the American people. At a time when the nation was at a low point morally and emotionally, the federal government declared that the only way to prevent further attacks, further deaths, and further tragedy is to allow those in authority to take back powers which they have already shown to be capable of abusing.

The American public responded enthusiastically to their request, which researchers have found is the norm for public opinion following a traumatic event. Directly following the event, the American citizens will likely support a decrease in rights and privileges in the hopes that doing so will once again allow them to feel safe. Once the shock of the events wears off, the citizens will be likely to reverse their position on the issue. Author Amitai Etzioni (2005) writes:

Shortly after the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in April 1995, a hefty majority (59%) favored giving up some liberties. After a month, the numbers began to subside to 52%, only to zoom to about 66% of Americans following September 11, 2001 (17).

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attack and the resulting War on Terror which led to armed forces being sent to both Afghanistan and Iraq, Americans once again felt a large reversal of opinion regarding the relinquishment of rights. However the government has not responded to this attitude by amending the Patriot Act significantly and in 2011 President Barack Obama signed a four-year extension to several aspects of the act, including allowing for observation and wire-tapping of suspected terrorists.

Since the passing of the Patriot Act, members of the population have voiced their opinion that the law serves to allow for right of American citizens to be violated. There have also been reports that the immigrants or visiting nationals who have come to the country and been subsequently detained via permission of the act have not only been arrested or detained without due process but that there is a question about whether their human rights have been violated by authorities. The federal government has taken action which has also alienated and violated the governments of the individual states. The Patriot Act allows for detainment and deportation of immigrants without habeas corpus (de Londras 2011,-page 141). "It states that an alien is deportable for contributing funds or material support to a terrorist organization -- or for contributing to any non-designated terrorist organization, if the alien knows or reasonably should have known that the funds or material support will further terrorist activity" (Ramasastry 2001). An individual who has immigrated legally can be removed from the United States if they have contributed to a terrorist faction, even if they were unaware they were doing so.

One example of otherwise unlawful detention was dealt with in a 2002 case in the state of New Jersey. Detainees of the federal government pursuant to the Patriot Act were being held in facilities in New Jersey. The Garden state had passed the New Jersey State Right to Know Act which demanded information from the federal government about these detainees to ensure that New Jersey citizens were being protected. According to Nancy Chang (2002), the judge on the case Arthur D'Italia ruled that the Patriot Act was not entitled to blanket arrests without charge or explanation. He said, "Nothing is easier for the government to assert than the disclosure of the arrest of X would jeopardize investigation Y" (Chang 2002,-page 81). The judge's ruling and demand for answers from the federal government was summarily ignored and answers were not provided. Thus, the Patriot Act literally allows the federal government to subvert state law by claiming that the detainee of one individual who may or may not be a citizen is legal if there is a chance that such detainment could lead to information about another investigation. If such an argument is valid for detention, then literally anyone could be subject to arrest and detainment if the federal government can make a claim that they are indirectly linked to another investigation. It is a blanket invitation for corruption and witch-hunting in the same vein as the Communist Red Scare of the 1950s.

Further powers were given to the government in 2003 with an addendum to the Patriot Act, called Patriot II. Not only did Patriot II allow for the creation of a DNA database for suspected terrorists but also allows the federal government to strip individuals of their American citizenship if they have been found to have given "material support" to known terrorist factions (Singel 2003). Again this poses a problem because for the second of the instances, an individual can be deprived of citizenship based on accusation. Coupled with the provisions of the initial legislation, a person can become a non-citizen, can be detained interminably, and can have any number of other…[continue]

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