Woody Creekers take aim at Patriot Act | AspenTimes.com

Woody Creekers take aim at Patriot Act

John Colson

The Woody Creek Caucus is urging Pitkin County to protect residents against the federal Patriot Act’s “patently illegal” provisions.The caucus this week approved a committee to draw up a resolution “designating Woody Creek as a civil rights ‘safe’ community.” Patriot Act critics say the federal legislation threatens certain civil rights and liberties guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.The committee was instructed to bring a resolution to the caucus membership at its next regular meeting, on March 30.”We’re trying to join forces with 43 million other people,” said caucus co-moderator George Stranahan on Friday, referring to a nationwide movement to propose such resolutions at all levels of local and state government. “We think that once we do it, all the other caucuses will say, ‘Why not?'” and local governments will follow suit.It’s not the first time the anti-terrorism legislation has come under fire here.Aspen passed a resolution in 2004 urging the federal government to revise the Patriot Act with an eye toward protecting civil liberties. And Pitkin County Library Board President John Wilkinson went to Washington, D.C., in the same year to lobby for changes to the act.The nationwide movement, conducted with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, has helped 14 state legislatures and scores of municipal and other local governments pass “Safe And Free” resolutions, according to the ACLU.The USA Patriot Act, an acronym standing for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism,” is set to expire on March 10.Congress has been debating whether and how to reauthorize the act, which was passed in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the United States and gave the government broad surveillance and detention powers.Critics of the act maintain that its provisions threaten such things as access to legal help for those accused of terror-related crimes; guarantees against illegal searches and seizures; the right to a speedy trial; the right to free speech, which some say is “chilled” by the act’s “overbroad definitions of terrorism”; and other basic rights.Supporters say it is a vital tool in the global war against terrorism and that the threats to American civil liberties are being overstated.At the caucus, Stranahan said, there was very little debate about the resolution, which contains language that “denounces and condemns all acts of terrorism” and recognizes “the need for strong and effective laws and policies that protect the American public.”But, the resolution continues, because of the perceived threats to basic rights and liberties, the caucus is asking Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis and the county commissioners to “seek adequate written assurances from federal authorities” that locals arrested under the act’s provisions will not be mistreated, subjected to military or secret detention, or secret immigration proceedings, or detained without contact with legal counsel.The resolution also seeks to protect locals against unwarranted surveillance or racial profiling and demands that local authorities agree not to participate in the “terrorism information and prevention system” or TIPS, “which encourages members of the general public to spy on their neighbors, colleagues or customers.”The resolution also asks the county to instruct the Pitkin County Library to post a notice to all library users that records of any books or other materials they borrow can end up in federal hands, as well as the fact that the act prohibits the library from informing its users when their data is requested by the feds.Finally, the resolution requests that the sheriff, local schools and other public institutions notify locals if their records are sought by federal agents.If approved as written, the resolution would require that the sheriff, the county manager and the directors of other institutions regularly report to the commissioners on any requests for information based on the provisions of the Patriot Act.”I love it,” Stranahan said. “Isn’t this the right thing to be doing? Yes, it is.”He said the option is to “sit around the tavern and piss and moan about George Bush,” or ultimately to “impeach George Bush and to defeat the specific terms of the USA Patriot Act that are patently illegal.”John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com