Stanford professor backs caucus’ fight against Patriot Act provisions |

Stanford professor backs caucus’ fight against Patriot Act provisions

John Colson

Attorney and Stanford University professor Chip Pitts thought he was coming to Aspen on a simple skiing vacation, but he picked up a copy of The Aspen Times and discovered he was in for more.While he was here, he found himself talking with local activists George Stranahan and Dwight Shellman about the ongoing efforts of the Woody Creek Caucus to pass a resolution in opposition to certain aspects of the federal USA Patriot Act.Pitts, an attorney, is the president of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, which has been working since 2001 to educate the U.S. public about the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights and perceived threats to civil liberties.Pitts also is a professor of business law and human rights issues at Stanford University, and for more than 15 years has been involved in work on international human rights and other foreign policy issues. He also is a past chairman of the board of Amnesty International USA.”We realize just how important these things are,” Pitts said of the caucus’ action. He said the national Bill of Rights Defense Committee will provide whatever assistance it can to keep locals up to date on threats to civil liberties.The resolution the Woody Creek Caucus is considering is one of several that local jurisdictions – including the city of Aspen and the town of Carbondale – have approved that are critical of the Patriot Act in general and other security measures seen as restricting civil liberties. Nationwide, 397 cities, towns and communities and eight states, including Colorado, have passed similar resolutions, according to the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.The Patriot Act won reauthorization from the Senate on Thursday by a 89-10 vote, with mostly Democrats in opposition, and now goes to the House of Representatives. The act is set to expire Friday, and legislators are hustling to get a reauthorization bill to President Bush by that date.Pitts and his colleagues at the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, which was created in 2001 after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, were worried the terror attacks and the reaction to them might threaten Americans’ civil liberties.”They were real concerned when people started talking about sacrificing civil liberties for national security,” Pitts said.”That spirit is essential if we are going to preserve our liberties,” he said. Pitts said Patriot Act and related regulations involving overzealous government surveillance and seizure tactics are inherently damaging to the rights of individuals.President Bush “could imprison us, even you and me, in the name of national security. Never before have we had such a complete attack on our basic rights.”Laws such as the Patriot Act, he said, violate the First, Fourth, Sixth and Eighth amendments and the Bill of Rights.Pitts said the U.S. government has listed the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, along with organizations such as Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union, as “criminally extremist organizations.””It’s the sort of thing that people have worried about in literature,” he said. “People of all political stripes are concerned about the direction we’re headed in,” including what many see as the Bush administration’s push for unchecked presidential authority in many policy areas.”That’s why it’s up to the press and the people … to restore the Bill of Rights,” he said. He urged people to read the Declaration of Independence, scrutinize administration claims about accomplishments due to the Patriot Act, and contact their congressional representatives if they have questions or concerns about reauthorization of the act.John Colson’s e-mail address is

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