Chicago would become the largest of 200 U.S. cities to oppose civil liberties "abuses" invoked by the USA Patriot Act under a resolution advanced by a City Council committee Thursday over the objections of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald appeared before the Human Relations Committee to defend the "widely misunderstood" act, which includes immigration provisions that have yet to result in a single person being detained nationwide.
The danger is that we are slowly eroding our most cherished constitutional freedoms. The act is being employed most often against immigrants and noncitizens. But it's a slippery slope.
Chicago Alderman Joseph Moore
Before the Patriot Act, people conducting criminal and intelligence investigations of terrorists were not allowed to share information with each other, the U.S. attorney said.
During his days as a federal prosecutor in New York, Fitzgerald started a 1996 criminal investigation of Osama bin Laden. He was allowed to talk to foreign police officers, foreign intelligence agencies and even al-Qaida members. He was prohibited from talking to the FBI team across the street conducting the intelligence investigation.
"Repealing the Patriot Act would put that wall back up, which is a danger both to all of our safety and all of our civil liberties," Fitzgerald said
Mayor Daley appeared to sympathize with Fitzgerald.
"We live in a very challenging time. No one wants to jump on anyone's . . . civil rights and human rights. But 9/11 gave us a different perspective with regards to terrorism," the mayor said.
Aldermen who went on record against the Iraq war were not convinced.
"The danger is that we are slowly eroding our most cherished constitutional freedoms. The act is being employed most often against immigrants and noncitizens. But it's a slippery slope," said Ald. Joseph Moore (49th).
Asked how many Chicagoans have been victimized by the Patriot Act, Ald. Freddrenna Lyle (6th) said, "The numbers could be astronomical or very small. We have no way of knowing, and that's what we're objecting to. These people are not entitled to a lawyer. They can be swept up off the streets. Their family does not have to be notified. You cannot even determine who they're holding, what department has them. They have no right to get a lawyer once they're in custody, and they can be held for indeterminate periods of time while charges are being made against them."
Signed into law on Oct. 21, 2001, the Patriot Act vastly increased the federal government's power to access private records, conduct secret searches, detain and deport citizens and eavesdrop on confidential communications between attorneys and their clients in federal custody. A proposed expansion of the act is now before Congress.
Copyright 2003, Digital Chicago Inc.