By JAMES HANNAH, Associated Press Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) - Attorney General John Ashcroft defended the USA Patriot Act on Wednesday, telling a group of police and prosecutors that the law will make thwarting terrorist bombing plots easier.
The law passed six weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington enables authorities to investigate without alerting terrorists, Ashcroft (pictured, above) told the audience of 250 in his second stop on a tour in support of the law.
"Those who challenge the long-standing Constitutional capacity to defend America would force us to tip off the terrorists that we are on to them and potentially enable the explosion of the device before it were located or disabled," Ashcroft said.
Ashcroft's monthlong tour of more than a dozen cities, including Philadelphia, Detroit and Des Moines, Iowa, is part of a campaign to counter criticism that the law has given the government too much power to secretly monitor its citizens.
About 70 people carrying signs that said "Ashcroft is a Traitor" and "Civil Rights, Not Patriot Games" protested the law outside the downtown hotel where Ashcroft spoke.
Gary Peterson, 60, of Cleveland, said the law is creating a climate of fear.
"They can go into our library records without telling us, come into our house and look at our computer without telling us," Peterson said. "They're destroying the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in the name of what? Saving us from what?"
Among other things, the law gives anti-terrorism investigators more power to wiretap suspects, search their property without immediately informing them and get access to business records.