Rod Driver

From the Newport Daily News, March 5, 2004:

Rights are eroded all too easily

In rush to protect security, bad laws pass without proper scrutiny

If you were dismayed to learn that Gov. Donald L. Carcieri had not even read his "Homeland Security" bill, prepare to be dismayed again.

Legislators in the General Assembly and in Congress routinely vote for bills without reading them. They generally just follow their leaders. Bad bills get passed that way, and once a bad bill becomes law fixing it is difficult.

A nasty example was a bill passed by the General Assembly in 1988 eliminating liquidity reserves for credit unions. Instead of reading the two-page bill, legislators accepted their leadersí claim that it would "increase" liquidity-reserve requirements. This bill helped cause the infamous collapse of Rhode Island Share and Deposit Indemnity Corp. in 1991.

On the comic side is a Rhode Island law banning possession of blackjacks, slingshots, brass knuckles and other weapons. The law goes on to say it is illegal to sell these banned weapons to a child Ė unless the child brings a note from his or her parent. (See Rhode Island General Laws 11-47-42 in your library or at This blundered bill passed in 1991. And all attempts to fix it have failed.

But these examples are nothing compared to the USA Patriot Act passed by Congress in October 2001. That act contradicts the freedoms enshrined in our Bill of Rights plus the right of habeas corpus in Article I, Section 9, of the U.S. Constitution itself. It is safe to say that none of the people who voted for this 342-page bill had read it -- but the title sure sounded good.

Under authority of the "Patriot Act" and various "executive orders," the Bush Administration is holding thousands of human beings at Guantanamo Bay, Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, Camp Cropper in Iraq, the naval facility on the island of Diego Garcia, and in South Carolina, Virginia and even Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Many have been imprisoned without charges for more than two years. They have no access to lawyers or even family members. Some are children. And their families donít know if they are dead or alive.

Detainees held in off-shore locations undergo "harsh interrogation." Some have died and others have attempted suicide. And if our interrogation fails to make them "confess," we ship detainees off to Egypt, Jordan, Morocco or Pakistan where interrogation can be even more brutal.

President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft, Paul Wolfowitz and Condoleeza Rice tell us we are at war and "suspected terrorists" donít deserve any rights.

But arenít these the same people who told us (over and over again) that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons and unmanned aerial vehicles to drop them on other countries? Didnít they say Iraq could launch an attack on 45 minutes notice? I heard them proclaim -- over CIA objections -- that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Africa and had secretly imported high-strength aluminum tubes for enriching uranium. And we couldnít let the U.N. inspectors finish their work, they said, because a "smoking gun" might come in the form of a "mushroom cloud." They even convinced Americans that Iraq had something to do with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Relying on these lies, Congress OKíd the attack on a country which had done nothing to us -- costing the lives of tens of thousands of Iraqis plus hundreds of Americans.

One might wonder whether scorning the United Nations, attacking a country which did not attack us and violating the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners are the best ways to reduce hatred for America and the threat of terrorism.

But donít think the Patriot Act impacts only non-citizens. On Feb. 3 an FBI task force served subpoenas on Drake University in Iowa demanding records of students who had protested the war ( And now Attorney General Ashcroft is subpooenaing women's medical records to study the occurence of abortions over the past several years.

Rod Driver
West Kingston

EDITOR'S NOTE: Rod Driver served in the Rhode Island House of Representatives from 1987-1994.