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Bush demands more police powers against terror

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Bush Urges More Police Powers Vs. Terror
Wed Sep 10, 8:27 PM ET Add White House - AP to My Yahoo!

By JENNIFER LOVEN, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - President Bush (news - web sites) told Congress on Wednesday to "untie the hands" of law enforcement officials and arm them with wider legal powers to combat terrorists, saying the groups that struck America two years ago are wounded but still dangerous.

He specifically called for expanding use of the federal death penalty, tougher bail restrictions and greater subpoena powers that he said are available for other crimes, such as drug trafficking and embezzling, but can't be used against terrorism. "This disparity in the law makes no sense," Bush said in a speech at the FBI (news - web sites) Academy in nearby Quantico, Va.

Bush's appeal threw the White House into a growing debate over the anti-terrorism USA Patriot Act enacted after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Critics say the law is too intrusive and a threat to civil liberties and fear that the administration is trying to pass a second version of the measure in piecemeal fashion. Even some House and Senate Republicans have talked about rolling back portions of the Patriot Act.

"For the sake of the American people," Bush said, "Congress should change the law and give law enforcement officials the same tools they have to fight terror that they have to fight other crime."

Bush acknowledged that not all members of Congress agree with the need to tighten the law but said a lot of them do. The White House indicated Bush supports tougher laws in other areas beyond the three instances he cited.

The American Civil Liberties Union (news - web sites) said that "further erosions of judicial oversight and the basic checks and balances ... are the wrong path to take."

The president's speech vied for attention with new video and audio tapes of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden (news - web sites) and his deputy, broadcast on the Arabic satellite channel Al-Jazeera. A voice said to be that of bin Laden praised the Sept. 11 attacks for causing "great damage to the enemy." Another voice attributed to bin Laden top aide Ayman al-Zawahri called on Iraqi guerrillas to "bury" American troops in Iraq (news - web sites).

"Haven't heard it yet," Bush said about the tape as he toured a ballistics room and a chemistry lab at Quantico, where he saw sensitive equipment used to identify material from explosions at the USS Cole (news - web sites), embassies in Africa and the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.

On the eve of the second anniversary of Sept. 11, the White House issued a progress report on the anti-terrorism war and Bush renewed the national emergency he declared two years ago to mobilize reserve military forces and take other steps. Nearly two-thirds of al-Qaida's key leaders have been captured or killed, the report said, and terrorist networks have lost access to $200 million.

"We've thwarted terrorists in Buffalo, and Seattle, Portland, Detroit, North Carolina, and Tampa, Fla.," Bush said, drawing from information in the report. "More than 260 suspected terrorists have been charged in the United States courts; more than 140 have already been convicted."

While claiming solid progress, Bush warned that the nation could not rest.

"Every morning I am briefed on the latest information on the threats to our country, and those threats are real. The enemy is wounded, but still resourceful and actively recruiting, and still dangerous," he said, addressing agents of the FBI and Drug Enforcement Agency, Marines and police and firefighters.

Bush said that under current statutes, "there are unreasonable obstacles to investigating and prosecuting terrorism, obstacles that don't exist when law enforcement officials are going after embezzlers or drug traffickers."

For example, he said law enforcement officers should be able to use administrative subpoenas to obtain records. Such subpoenas are easier and faster to obtain but not for terrorism, the administration said.

Bush said administrative subpoenas are available in health care fraud and child abuse cases. "Yet incredibly enough in terrorism cases where speed is often of the essence, officials lack the authority to use administrative subpoenas."

Similarly, he said, suspects charged in some drug trafficking cases are not eligible for bail "but terrorist-related crimes are not on that list. Suspected terrorists could be released, free to leave the country, or worse, before the trial."

Bush did not mention complaints about the detention of hundreds of people some for up to eight months held on immigration violations after Sept. 11.

Bush also called for expanding federal death penalty provisions. "Sabotaging a defense installation or a nuclear facility in a way that takes innocent life does not carry the federal death penalty," he said. "This kind of technicality should never protect terrorists from the ultimate justice."

Timothy Edgar, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said all three provisions Bush highlighted were included in a draft sequel to the Patriot Act that was made public earlier this year. "What's relevant is that President Bush is trying to push through these powers that the Justice Department (news - web sites) put together as a sequel to the Patriot Act in a way that further undermines civil rights and civil liberties," Edgar said.

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