Amy Goodman: In another major setback for the Justice Department, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 309-118 to overturn key provisions of the Act.
It marks the first time the House or Senate has rolled back portions of the controversial Act which was approved with little debate one month after the September 11 attacks. Last night’s vote attached a provision to a $38 billion appropriations Bill that would block the Justice Department from using any funds to secretly search homes. Over the last two years the Justice Department had overseen 47 of the so-called sneak and peek searches. The House is also expected to vote this week to roll back another provision of the U.S.A. Patriot Act that allows the F.B.I. to secretly obtain detailed information on patrons, from libraries and bookstores.
Bernie Sanders: Thank you.
Amy Goodman: Let’s start off with what happened last night? The significance of that roll back.
Bernie Sanders: It was a big deal. And it was a very big surprise. The fact that almost all Democrats voted for the provision, and over half the Republicans did, showed the Justice Department for the very first time since the U.S.A. Patriot Act was passed, that there is massive discontent with the anti-civil liberties provisions in that bill. I think it was a great victory. Unfortunately yesterday, because the deal was made between the Republicans and the Democrats on the floor of the house, a number of us were not able to offer amendments. The amendment I would have offered would have stopped the F.B.I. from going into libraries and bookstores with virtually no probable cause, to determine the reading habits of Americans. We’re going to fight hard to get that provision put into place. If we can’t do it in the house, we’ll do it in the Senate. But yesterday’s vote — by the way, I should tell you that the person who introduced that amendment was a conservative Republican — conservative Republican. So I am feeling much more optimistic today than I did yesterday that the U.S. Patriot Act is going to get a very, very hard look and hopefully we’ll be able to take out some of the onerous provisions in it.
Amy Goodman: Now talk about the aspect of the legislation that you’re taking on — the one that puts librarians in the cross hairs of the U.S.A. Patriot Act.
Bernie Sanders: That’s quite right. Essentially, and I think many Americans don’t know this: that under the U.S.A. Patriot Act, the F.B.I. can walk into a secret tribunal — secret judge, and basically say to the judge, we are doing an investigation on international terrorism. That’s all they have to say. And, of course, they are. Having said that to judge, the judge is obliged to give them permission to walk into a library, walk into a bookstore, and find out the books you have taken out, or the books you have purchased. On top of that, the librarian or the bookstore owner may not tell you that you are under investigation. And this is clearly an outrage for a dozen different reasons, but many librarians all over this country are worrying about the chilling impact it has on people’s reading habits. Is someone taking out a biography of Osama Bin Laden? Are you going to read a book on anarchy? Are you going to read books that might be controversial if you think the F.B.I. is going to know what is you are reading and that information will get out? So what I’m happy to say is we have the support of the American Librarians Association who have been very, very active on this issue. The book sellers all over
Amy Goodman: What does this mean for Bush since all of this has taken place in the context of the presidential campaign?-
Bernie Sanders: This is — remember, this particular amendment was brought by a fellow named Butch Otter of Idaho. What it should tell the Bush administration and Mr. Ashcroft, is that people all over this country, including a conservative United States congress say, you have gone much too far. Yes, we want to protect the American people from terrorism. That, in fact, is very important. But we can do that without undermining the basic constitutional rights of this country. So I feel better today than I did yesterday. We’re going to work as hard as we can. Either through the Senate, or one way or another, through the Conference Committee to get the freedom to read legislation incorporated in there as well.
Amy Goodman: Congress member Sanders, I also want to talk about the F.C.C. and the new media ownership regulations. The New York Times reports today there’s growing bipartisan support in congress to roll back Michael Powell’s new rules that are expected to result in the greatest media consolidation in
Bernie Sanders: Well yesterday in the last — let me back it up and tell the listeners that right now, clearly one of the major concerns that many of us have who are worried about democracy in America, the diversity of opinion that a democratic society requires — the main concern is that we’re seeing every year is fewer and fewer large multinational media conglomerates owning what we see, hear and read. It is a hugely significant problem. As a result of the decision by the F.C.C. on June 2, a green light was given out to these companies to override, to go beyond many rules that have been set in place for years, to actually increase in a significant way, media concentration in
Amy Goodman: Finally, Congress member Sanders, you have signed a letter asking Vice President Cheney 10 questions. You sit on the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations. You’re joined in that letter signing by Dennis Kucinich, who is the ranking minority member and congresswoman Carolyn Maloney of
Bernie Sanders: Well very briefly, I think a lot of Americans are deeply concerned about the Bush administration statements that got us into the war and the whole question of whether or not
Amy Goodman: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Congress member Bernie Sanders of Vermont and an independent congressman. By the way, the 10 questions for Cheney. the letters that Congressman Sanders and others have signed can be found at tompaine.com.