There's plenty of blame to go around regarding the travesty that is the Patriot Act, but the key point now is that it's up to Congress to fix it.

That likely would have be eneasier with a different resident in the White House come January, but that's irrelevant. Congress was snowed into passing this affront to our country's long-cherished civil liberties and legal protections, and it's up to Congress to repair the damage.

Once seen as an issue pitting so-called conservatives against liberals, even though only one senator and a handful of representatives in Congress voted against it, bipartisan criticism is steadily growing.

Pushed through just days after the Sept. 11 attacks - printed at 3:30 a.m. and passed by Congress at 11 a.m. - not a single member of Congress read it before voting.

Some provisions of this 342-page monstrosity make sense and should be retained, such as amending federal money-laundering laws, creating new federal crimes for attacks on mass transportation facilities, increasing cooperation among law enforcement agencies and authorizing new appropriations to enhance border security.

There is much to be alarmed about, as Whitman College Professor Timothy Kaufman-Osborn recently reminded a crowd of civic-minded residents in Milton-Freewater.

He said the Patriot Act greatly expanded the ability of police to conduct secret searches, subject political and civic organizations to surveillance and jail people on suspicion alone and then hold them indefinitely without charges or meaningful judicial review.

Even the Justice Department's own inspector general condemned the use of the Patriot Act as "haphazard and indiscriminate," Kaufman-Osborn noted.

Examples abound of how the Patriot Act has been used to circumvent the civil liberties guaranteed by the Constitution. For example:

• The Fourth Amendment promises that "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated." The Patriot Act allows police to conduct secret searches of homes without probable cause or a warrant if a link to terrorism is suspected, and without ever acknowledging the intrusion.

That's what happened to a Portland attorney who was arrested after he was apparently linked to the terrorist train bombing in Spain by a fingerprint found at the scene (and, apparently, because he had represented Muslims and had adopted the religion). The FBI found nothing incriminating when it secretly broke into his home. And after being jailed for about a week with no charges filed, he was released when it was found the fingerprint wasn't a match after all (not even close).

• The Sixth Amendment provides the right to a speedy trial and the right to be informed of the facts of an accusation. More than 1,000 arrests have been made under the Patriot Act and many of those people are still being held - three years later - either in the United States or at Guantanamo Bay without ever being charged and without access to legal representation.

So far, none of those arrested have actually been charged with participating in the Sept. 11 attacks or with being terrorists.

Let's see, secret searches without court oversight, arrests without charges or access to attorneys - sounds a lot like the complaints the colonists had against the British when Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence.

Such tactics also move the United States closer toward the totalitarian regimes we are battling in the war on terrorism rather than extolling the respect we have for personal freedoms and protections.

The Patriot Act reverses the most fundamental protections of this country. "You're presumed guilty until determined to be innocent," David Cole of Georgetown University says in a documentary about the outcome of the Patriot Act produced by the American Civil Liberties Union titled "Unconstitutional."

We need to remember it's not the executive branch that makes laws - or fixes bad ones - and then push our representatives to re-embrace the concepts of civil liberties and personal privacy that formed the foundation of this country. That can only make us stronger.

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