In the same month that the World Trade Center collapsed, the U.S. government had already begun creating legislation to try to prevent further terrorist actions. And in the past two years since Sept. 11, 2001, Congress has examined hundreds of bills and resolutions related to the attacks, a list that eventually accumulated into nine pages.
A list of legislation that was signed into law and deemed necessary by government for national security interests but stirred a new battle among liberals and conservatives.
The most notable on the list being the USA Patriot Act, which gives government officials more authority for domestic surveillance.
Under this act, the FBI can collect conversations relating to terrorism, such as telephone conversations and faxes, to be used as evidence in court. The indictment of former USF professor Sami Al-Arian is a prime example of how the Patriot Act functions, allowing evidence gathered by intelligence agencies to be used in Al-Arian’s trial, which is scheduled to begin in 2005.
The act, though, has launched a much-debated argument in Congress over its constitutionality.
“(The act) has gotten the most attention because it’s so revolutionary in what it did to a basic Bill of Rights,” said Susan MacManus, a USF political science professor and political analyst. “Some say it’s safe to weed out the bad people, but others say there are certain rights that need to be protected.”
Nonetheless, the legislation continues to be brought before Congress as it did on the eve of the terrorist attacks’ second anniversary. On Wednesday, President George W. Bush proposed a need for stricter anti-terrorism laws. In his proposal, Bush urged Congress to pass actions that would allow law enforcement to skip grand jury court procedures by issuing subpoenas instead in terrorism investigations. He also requested to expand the ability to deny bail for terrorist suspects and expand the death penalty for terrorism-related crimes, according to an Associated Press report.
With what many Americans and certainly the Bush administration has defined as the one of the most tragic events in U.S. history, MacManus said the amount of legislation passed is common.
“No question about it … it yields massive legislation and that’s obviously because of what’s happened,” MacManus said. “It was (the) most massive shake up in organization (of government) that we’ve seen in decades.”
MacManus added that about 82 percent of Americans feel the United States has changed since the terrorist attacks, according to a poll in the Orlando Sentinel.
“I think that because the attacks and fright on terrorism, Homeland Security is linked (to the events) and that yields to major avenues for legislation,” MacManus said. “The pressure points for legislation have been magnified because you have so many things linked together that require attention.”
Legislation following the attacks also called for tougher policies on entrance into the United States with the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002. A database was created to record the status of incoming international students as well as students who had already been studying in the United States prior to Sept. 11, 2001.
The INS, which is now the Homeland Security Department, required that universities fully comply with the Student and Exchange Information System via Internet to track international students. Universities record a student’s name, address, major and enrollment status, whether full time or part time, into the system. The information is then reported to Homeland Security. International students risk being deported if they fail to provide the information, change their major or change their enrollment status to part time.
“Almost every legislation coming out of Washington today can be linked to the fight on terrorism, even in the health care area they have legislation related to bioterrorism,” MacManus said. “There’s not a phase of American life that has not been touched by legislation.”
Funding plays a major role in passing bills and resolutions and allowing them to continue, MacManus said. One act passed in 2001 is almost identical to the USA Patriot Act. It is named as the Uniting and Strengthening America Act , and gives government the authority to punish terrorist acts in the United States and worldwide. This is an overlap that is common when various committees are supporting “hot topics,” for the sake of funding, MacManus said.
“If a subject is hot and you’re trying to get funding for it, chances are you’ll get funding for it, so everyone tries to latch their legislative interest to it,” MacManus said.
Two years after the Patriot Act was passed, Attorney General John Ashcroft went on a 16-city tour promoting the act. With each stop on the tour, Ashcroft defended the legislation as a “valuable antiterrorism tool” deemed necessary in response to the terrorist attacks.
That tour ended Tuesday in New York with protesters criticizing the act as unconstitutional.
The next addition to the list could be the Patriot Act II, which would extend the government’s surveillance powers if passed. Intelligence agencies and government officials would have the authority to gather information about a suspect through businesses, friends and relatives without notification to the suspect. They would also be able to retrieve information from credit reports and a DNA database and issue gag orders.
But because of the severity associated with the Sept. 11 attacks, this amount of legislation and the issues raised with them is to be expected, MacManus said.
“When you have a massive shock into a system like 9/11 there’s no surprise there’s an onslaught of legislation linked to it,” MacManus said.