Tue September 9, 2003
Ashcroft Pushes Patriot Act Amid Much Criticism
By Eileen Buckley
Buffalo, NY – US Attorney John Ashcroft says the Patriot Act is helping win the war against terrorism. Ashcroft is conducting a 16-city tour to promote the USA Patriot Act amid criticism that it harms civil rights. He appeared in Buffalo Monday, but the public was not allowed to attend.
The Patriot Act was approved shortly after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, allowing law enforcement to privately monitor suspected terrorists. Ashcroft says it provides needed tools to law enforcement without tipping off terrorists. But outside, local protestors disagreed. One of the owners of the Talking Leafs book store in Buffalo, Martha Russell, says she wanted to tell Ashcroft the act violates civil rights.
"I would have told him that he's totally on the wrong track," Russell said. "This is a democracy. We are not here to give up our freedoms for him."
But Ashcroft says the Patriot Act led to the local arrests and guilty pleas of the Lackawanna Six. He referred to the group as a terror cell.
"All across this nation, we can point to the quiet, steady progress that has been made because of the cooperate efforts of law enforcement and intelligence community," Ashcroft said. "We've dismantled terrorist cells in Detroit, Seattle, Portland and here in Buffalo."
But a member of the local Muslim community, Mohammad Albanna, quickly reacted to Ashcroft's statement. Albanna disagrees with the US Attorney's characterization of the six men constituting a terror cell.
"This is a scare tactic and I think that is unjust and unfair," Albanna said. "And if that is the attorney general who is supposed to be protect my wife and you, how can he freely use terms that are not actually a part of the case in the court of law?"
Local US attorney Battle says he could not comment on Ashcroft's terror cell characterization of the Lackawanna Six. He says he will leave that up to Ashcroft and President Bush.
"I have to look from a law enforcement standpoint, in terms of proof and in terms of evidence in this case, and what I have is evidence of individuals who engaged in violation of federal law," Battle said. "And I would rather stay away from those definitions."
Battle would only say the Patriot Act was "helpful" in the arrests of the Lackawanna men, but is not allowed to reveal how it played a role.