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Friday, October 2, 2009

Mukasey Scaremongering on Patriot Act Renewal

Former Attorney General (and federal district court judge in the Southern District of New York) Michael Mukasey authored a thoughtful essay in today's Wall Street Journal opinion pages about reasons to renew certain controversial provisions of the USA Patriot Act.

Mukasey was doing fine, until the last paragraph, stating as follows:
Those who indulge paranoid fantasies of government investigators snooping on the books they take out of the library, and who would roll back current authorities in the name of protecting civil liberties, should consider what legislation will be proposed and passed if the next Najibullah Zazi is not detected.
Mukasey strongly implies that we should give the government more power, and even be willing to sacrifice some constitutional freedoms and certainly endure some inconveniences.   His reason comes in the form of a barely-veiled threat: that any future attack will embolden the government to be much more aggressive in pursuing suspects, the rights of the innocent be damned.

Mukasey undermined the message of the rest of his essay with this extraordinarily ill-advised ending.   His last paragraph evokes the basic "brute force" argument of the schoolyard bully:  Give us what we want, now, or else you'll really be sorry.    The implicit brutality of the argument all but admits that there is either a basic flaw in the government's argument for Patriot Act renewal, or a basic, callous indifference to popular constitutional rights and protections.  

The Founding Fathers, who drafted the Bill of Rights with the memories of British tyranny and repression fresh in their minds, would be appalled at the tone, not just the substance, of Mukasey's essay.

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