WASHINGTON – Former Vice President Al Gore says the Bush White House is using the Sept. 11 terror attacks to justify a major offensive against the freedoms and liberties Americans have enjoyed for centuries.
“They have taken us much farther down the road toward an intrusive, ‘big brother’-style government – toward the dangers prophesied by George Orwell in his book ’1984′ – than anyone ever thought would be possible in the United States of America,” Gore charged in a speech.
Gore, who lost the disputed 2000 presidential election to President Bush, brought many in the crowd of 3,000 to their feet Sunday when he called for a repeal of the Patriot Act, which expanded government’s surveillance and detention power, allowing authorities to monitor the books citizens read and conduct secret searches.
He said terrorism-fighting tools granted after Sept. 11, 2001, amount to a partisan power grab that has led to the erosion of the civil liberties of all Americans.
The Senate minority leader, Tom Daschle of South Dakota, said Monday that while he’s not ready to support repealing the Patriot Act, he is skeptical of the way it’s been used by the White House and said there is “a lot of concern about the assault on civil liberties.”
The Bush administration, he said on the NBC “Today” program,
“created this campaign to bolster their standing in the polls, to bolster their political support around the country. They used these devices, to a certain extent, to intimidate people, to recognize that perhaps using this as a vehicle was a way to enhance their own standing.”
Gore chided the administration for what he said was its “implicit assumption” that Americans must give up traditional freedoms in order to be safe from terrorists.
“In my opinion, it makes no more sense to launch an assault on our civil liberties as the best way to get at terrorists than it did to launch an invasion of Iraq as the best way to get at Osama bin Laden,” Gore said.
In both cases, Gore said, the administration has “recklessly put our country in grave and unnecessary danger.”
He also said the administration still has “no serious strategy” for domestic security – charging that there aren’t sufficient protections in place for ports, nuclear facilities, chemical plants and other key infrastructure.
His speech was sponsored by the liberal activist group Moveon.org, which earlier this year held an online presidential primary in which Howard Dean finished first.
The second sponsor, the American Constitution Society, is a national organization of law students, professors, lawyers and others that says it seeks to counter what it characterizes as the dominant, narrow conservative vision of American law today.
The Patriot Act was passed overwhelmingly by Congress, but has been under attack by liberals and many conservatives who say the law intrudes too much into Americans’ lives in the name of fighting terror.
Democrats have been trying to build support in the Senate to rolling back portions of the law and some Republicans say it needs to be changed.
“The Patriot Act crossed the line on several key areas of civil liberties,” Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee said last month.
Changes must be made to the law if it is to be renewed in 2005, agreed GOP Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho, another member of the Judiciary Committee.