When left is right

From the Terri Schiavo case to expanded government powers in the war on terrorism, conservative libertarians are palling around an awful lot these days with the political left.


Mark Follman
March 24, 2005 1:29AM (UTC)

Grover Norquist and Paul Weyrich, meet the ACLU.

From the Terri Schiavo case to expanded government powers in the war on terrorism, conservative libertarians are palling around an awful lot these days with the political left. Today's Times reports on an unlikely coalition that's come together to fight the Bush administration on some key aspects of the PATRIOT Act set to expire at the end of this year. Bush has been prodding Congress to extend the so-called sneak-and-peek provisions, which allow federal agents to search a home or business without immediately notifying the parties subject to the searches, as well as to demand individual records from institutions like medical offices and public libraries.

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According to the Times, Bob Barr, a former Republican congressman leading the coalition, says that rolling back the sweeping powers of the PATRIOT Act is now "the single most important issue" facing the Congress -- a position all the more striking given Barr's strong support for the legislation in the weeks following 9/11. In a letter sent to President Bush on Tuesday the coalition acknowledged that "much of the Patriot Act is necessary to provide law enforcement with the resources they need to defeat terrorism." But its members "remain very concerned that some of its provisions go beyond its mission and infringe on the rights of law-abiding Americans, in ways that raise serious constitutional and practical concerns."

It's easy to make partisan hay of the PATRIOT Act; the coming together of strange bedfellows on this issue is a measure of how complicated the balancing act really is between defending civil liberties and battling terrorists. (And in fact it's not the first time left and right have joined forces on this front.)

For more on the difficulty of striking the right balance, be sure to read Alex Kotlowitz's in-depth New York Times Magazine profile of Ibrahim Parlak, a Kurd from Turkey who has lived in America for 13 years, is beloved in his small-town Michigan community, and who may soon be deported due to his involvement with a militant Kurdish dissident group before he sought asylum in the U.S. more than a decade ago.

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"There have never been any allegations that Parlak is a threat to the security of this country, or that he has been involved with any kind of militant group since his arrival here," Kotlowitz writes. "Rather, as legislators reshaped the definition of terrorism, first in 1990, then in 1996, and then again in 2001 -- in the aftermath of 9/11 -- Parlak's activities in Turkey took on a more sinister coloring. What's more, with each broadening of the definition by Congress, its application became retroactive."

As one expert on Islamic and security issues tells Kotlowitz, "Today we're looking for terrorism everywhere. It's the lens through which we view the world."


Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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