President Bush on Monday 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.
The president also argued that 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 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.
Civil liberties groups and privacy advocates lambasted the law because they said it undermines freedom. But Bush said the act “has been vital to our success in tracking terrorists and disrupting their plans.” He noted that many key elements of the law are set to expire at the end of the year and said Congress must act quickly to renew it.
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, who served as White House counsel during the last four years, said he would be a part of Bush’s team but his first allegiance will 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.