Senate Republicans are discussing a “Victory Act” that would expand the Justice Department’s powers to investigate terrorists and drug criminals, the Washington Post reports. Recent drafts, which carry the names of Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and four other Senate Republicans, would increase penalties for drug dealers connected to terrorist and would dramatically expand government power to seize records and conduct wiretaps in “narcoterrorism” cases.
A July 30 version of the plan runs 56 pages. It targets “interstate currency couriers” by making it a crime to carry more than $10,000 cash in a vehicle in connection with illegal activity. Prosecutors would be able to freeze for 30 days the assets of people arrested for money-laundering. Copies of the bill that have circulated on Capitol Hill include provisions sought by Justice Department prosecutors in the areas of terrorism and drug crimes. Several are similar to proposals made during the early debate over the USA Patriot Act, the anti-terrorism measure approved in October 2001 that Attorney General John Ashcroft is defending on tour.
Civil libertarians, criminal defense lawyers, and some Democrats say the Bush administration and Senate Republicans are trying to use the terrorist threat to mask broad changes in drug trafficking laws. An ACLU lawyer said the proposal “does not address the intelligence problems that led to the September 11th attacks, continuing a failed policy of simply granting more power to the government instead of ensuring the government uses its existing powers effectively.”
The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that Ashcroft gave a “punchy and tightly choreographed speech in downtown Cleveland” in defense of the USA Patriot Act. About 80 protesters gathered outside the hotel where he spoke. In Philadelphia, Ashcroft gave a similar speech, declaring that, “We are winning the war on terror,” the Philadelphia Inquirer says. About 50 protesters outside denounced the law. John Grant, president of the area chapter of Veterans for Peace, said federal officials “are slowly taking away our rights.”