Susan Herman, president of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and author of “Taking Liberties: The War on Terror and the Erosion of American Democracy,"
told Newsmax that the 10-year-old Patriot Act could be considered a “dragnet.”
“The problem, of course, if you take the metaphor of a dragnet seriously, is that, if you lay out a dragnet, you’re not only going to catch what you intend, you’re also going to catch the unintended,” Herman said in the exclusive interview.
The Patriot Act is one of several “blunt instruments” enacted in the months following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Herman said.
“The problem was that they didn’t really know, at that point, what had happened on 9/11,” she said. “So, to me, a lot of these dragnets just do a lot of damage in many different ways to our constitutional rights under the First Amendment, under the Fourth Amendment . . . due process.”
When asked whether she believes the government has abused any of the security measures provided by the Patriot Act to spy on its citizens, she responded that the law skirts the Constitution.
“This is not a situation under Fourth Amendment business-as-usual, where the government is limited to only go after people that it does have some individualized suspicion about,” she said. “The government is empowered to investigate and look at the records and information on all sorts of people who it doesn’t think are terrorists at all.”
Increased surveillance “is only one of the many different kinds of powers that the Patriot Act enlarged and unleashed,” she said.
“National security letters, for example, have been used hundreds of thousands of times — again, against people who are not themselves suspects — just to get information . . . and we don’t really know how the government has been targeting people,” she said.
There’s no way to determine whether the act has prevented another terrorist strike in the United States because “so much of this has been going on in secret,” she told Newsmax.
“The surveillance provisions of the Patriot Act make it so easy for the government to know everything about what we’re doing, and so difficult for us to know what the government is doing,” she said, adding that the government’s right to immediately seize the assets of organizations with suspected ties to terrorist groups is unfair.
“The idea that American organizations, or individuals, or charities were a source of funding to terrorists, to al-Qaida, was really wildly overblown,” she said.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Arizona Sen. John McCain disagreed about whether enhanced-interrogation techniques helped the military locate Osama bin Laden, she said.
“There’s general controversy over whether enhanced-interrogation techniques get you anything more than . . . unreliable information,” she said.
She told Newsmax the ACLU is also concerned about the precedent set by President Barack Obama’s authorized assassination of American-born terrorist Anwar Al-Awlaki in Yemen.
“It seems to me that, if the Constitution means anything, it means that the president cannot just designate an American citizen to be a terrorist and then execute that citizen without any oversight, without any process, without our knowing what the standards are,” she said. “I think our history shows that once people start dispensing with due process…we make mistakes, there’s terrible injustices, and, at some point...somebody who is not a terrorist is going to be executed.”
Herman told Newsmax the topic of drone attacks arose during a discussion at the U.S. Army War College when she was guest speaker, and that military educators and officers disagreed over the strategy.
If drone attacks can be ordered in the nonwar theaters of Yemen and Pakistan, “some of them said, ‘Why not Chicago?’”
“The whole idea that we are at war with terrorism, I think, is a metaphor that’s been taken too far,” she said. “If the whole world is the battlefield here, how do you avoid killing innocent civilians, as well?”
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