The clunkily named USA PATRIOT Act — the moniker is an acronym for "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism" — has prompted a fair amount of anxiety since its hasty passage six weeks after the atrocity of Sept. 11, 2001.
It has also prompted several dozen counties and cities and three states — Alaska, Hawaii and Vermont — to pass resolutions opposing the law.
Now an East Valley lawmaker, state Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, wants to get Arizona on the bandwagon. Pearce has stated his intention to introduce a similar resolution in the Legislature, though he has not said just when he will do so.
“I get very concerned when we are asked to give up our civil liberties,” the Mesa Republican told the Tribune last week.
While we appreciate the concerns of Pearce and other resolution supporters such as the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, it must be asked what liberties Americans have actually had to yield thus far — and whether some of their fears might not be overblown.
Consider the matter of the provision allowing U.S. citizens to be held without access to legal counsel after they have been designated as “enemy combatants.” As scary as this sounds, it has only befallen two people thus far — one of whom was captured fighting for al-Qaida in Afghanistan and both of whom trained with the terrorist group at its camps there.
Hands have also been wrung over the government's new power to peruse public library records, which has raised the specter of political fishing expeditions. But will agents tasked with hunting real terrorists really have time to indulge in such wild goose chases?
It is true that excessive police powers can lead and have led to abuses. The PATRIOT Act is accordingly worthy of scrutiny — and, where appropriate, the addition of safeguards to prevent those abuses.
But it also true that real, widespread abuses of civil liberties have not occurred — and that al-Qaida has not been able to make another major strike within these borders. Pearce's resolution would therefore seem to be an unwarranted exercise in hyperbole.