Pubdate: Thu, 25 Sep 2003
Source: Sun News (Myrtle Beach, SC)
Copyright: 2003 Sun Publishing Co.
Source: Sun News (SC)
Author: Jeffrey Collins, The Associated Press
Bookmark: (Patriot Act)
Bookmark: (Terrorism)
Bookmark: (Ashcroft, John)


Attorney General Tours to Bolster USA Patriot Act

COLUMBIA - U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft says America is winning
both the war on terror and the war on crime in its own back yard.

Ashcroft spoke to about 200 prosecutors, police officers and other law
officials Wednesday as part of a tour to gain support for the enhanced
enforcement tactics in the USA Patriot Act, which some have criticized
for trampling on civil liberties.

The Attorney General also wants to gain support for several Justice
Department initiatives from cracking down on gun crimes to encouraging
tougher prison sentences.

The new efforts, along with the hard work of police officers on the
streets and prosecutors in the courtrooms, have caused the nation's
crime rate to drop to a 30-year low, Ashcroft said.

"Together, we are protecting homes," Ashcroft said. "Together, we are
saving lives."

Ashcroft spent just five minutes of his 25-minute speech talking about
the Patriot Act, which was passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The law expanded government surveillance capabilities, toughened
criminal penalties for terrorists and allowed greater sharing of

Ashcroft said the law took tools the government was allowed to use to
fight drug smugglers and organized crime and extended them to terrorists.

Civil liberties groups and an increasing number of Democrats and
Republicans in Congress say the new rules infringe on freedoms without
providing much help on the war on terror.

Ashcroft disagrees.

"America is freer today than any other time," he said, noting that
there have been no terror attacks on U.S. soil since those two years

The crowd, full of police uniforms and conservative suits, interrupted
Ashcroft's speech several times with applause.

Afterward, many said they liked what they heard.

"All of this just makes sense," said York County prosecutor Tommy
Pope. "In my mind, I equate the fight on terror to the drug trade,
because that's what I am used to. We should have the same tools to
fight both."

Pope, who was a narcotics agent at the State Law Enforcement Division
early in his career, said the Patriot Act makes prosecutors' jobs
easier by making the justice system more efficient without taking away
basic liberties.

In the rest of the speech, Ashcroft discussed other Justice Department
initiatives he said had reduced crime across the country.
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