Bush urges Patriot Act's swift renewal

President Bush yesterday urged Congress to reauthorize the USA Patriot Act, the Justice Department's widely criticized anti-terrorism law.

"We must not allow the passage of time or the illusion of safety to weaken our resolve in this new war" on terrorism, Bush said at a swearing-in ceremony for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales at the Justice Department. "To protect the American people, Congress must promptly renew all provisions of the Patriot Act this year," Bush said.

The president also argued the Senate must give his nominees for the federal bench up or down votes without delay to fill vacancies in the courts.

The Patriot Act, passed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, bolstered FBI surveillance and law-enforcement powers in terror cases, increased use of material-witness warrants to hold suspects incommunicado for months, and allowed secret proceedings in immigration cases.

It also enhanced police powers on money laundering and border protection. Sixteen of the surveillance provisions, some of which have been criticized by groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, are due to expire at the end of this year unless Congress renews them.

Civil liberties groups and privacy advocates lambasted the law because they said it undermines freedom.

Bush said the act "has been vital to our success in tracking terrorists and disrupting their plans."

The Patriot Act was pushed by Gonzales' predecessor, John Ashcroft, who was in the audience as Gonzales took his oath from Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Bush lauded Ashcroft's tireless efforts to make America safer as he oversaw a drop in violent crime besides his counterterrorism work.

Gonzales said he would be a part of Bush's team but his first allegiance would be to the Constitution.

"I am confident that in the days and years ahead we in the department will work together tirelessly to address terrorism and other threats to our nation and to confront injustice with integrity and devotion to our highest ideals," Gonzales said.

Advocating for the Patriot Act will be among the challenges this year for Gonzales, 49, who was Bush's White House counsel for four years before being named as the nation's first Hispanic-American attorney general.

A longtime confidant of Bush, Gonzales said in his remarks that he realizes the differences between his former and current job.

"Undeniably, the attorney general is a member of the president's Cabinet, a part of his team," Gonzales said. "But the attorney general represents also the American people, and his first allegiance must always be to the Constitution of the United States. And so, I rise today to reassure you that I understand the special role of this office."

By Nedra Pickler ASSOCIATED PRESS February 15, 2005 WASHINGTON
Bloomberg News Service contributed to this story.


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