The Justice Department unveiled yesterday extensive new details of its use of the USA Patriot Act in a bid to shore up support for the embattled anti-terrorism law, asserting that it has helped thwart al Qaeda plots and led to scores of criminal convictions since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. According to a 29-page report to Congress released by Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, Justice Department terrorism investigations have resulted in charges against 310 people and have yielded 179 convictions or guilty pleas. The report says the Patriot Act was central to those cases, reports the Washington Post.
The report also chronicles numerous instances in which the law has been used in traditional criminal investigations, from child pornography prosecutions to the rescue of a kidnapped 88-year-old woman. Ashcroft and other Bush administration officials had not previously revealed the extent to which law enforcement authorities were able to investigate such crimes under the expanded powers provided by the law. The Patriot Act, passed overwhelmingly by Congress in the weeks after the 2001 terrorist attacks, gave the government significant new powers to conduct searches and surveillance in terrorism investigations and allowed more information sharing among law enforcement agencies.