Lawyer, U prof debate USA Patriot Act’s effects on freedom

by Elizabeth Putnam

Thomas Juntunen was raised in a liberal home and always admired his mother’s activism against U.S. intervention abroad.

But his political views were challenged Thursday as he listened to University journalism professor Jane Kirtley and trial attorney William Michael Jr. debate the possible ramifications of the USA Patriot Act – the anti-terrorism legislation passed by Congress last fall – at Metropolitan State University.

“I came in here thinking that I would agree with professor Kirtley’s views,” said Juntunen, an MSU student. “But the debate made me see a different side to what I thought I believed. Mr. Michael presented a behind-the-scenes view.”

In front of a 100-person audience, Kirtley debated her view that the Patriot Act infringes on citizens’ civil liberties.

Michael – a former member of the U.S. Army Special Forces and a Green Beret – defended the legislation, citing his experiences in the terrorism field and working with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Kirtley said there are provisions within the bill that allow the government to monitor e-mails and Internet access without knowledge of the person being monitored.

She said few legislators read the act in full before voting for it.

“How many people have actually read the whole act?” Kirtley said.

Only two in the audience of 100 raised their hands, one of whom was Michael.

A central focus of contention was the role of the press during a time of increased national security.

Kirtley said the media’s access to Afghanistan, military operations and government information has been too limited.

“There is an over-classification of documents,” Kirtley said. “It’s a catch-all justification.”

But Michael said he wouldn’t want a reporter on a military mission because it would affect the safety of the reporter and the troops.

“I would have to devote resources to the reporter, and that takes the focus off the main focus of the mission,” Michael said.

After the one-hour debate, audience members asked questions emphasizing the possibility of increased racial profiling against citizens of Middle Eastern appearance.

Michael said profiling is wrong if it is based solely on a person’s appearance. But he said authorities should be able to consider ethnicity under certain circumstances.

“It’s not wrong if it is one of many factors,” Michael said. “You need to be able to track ethnicity.”

Kirtley and Michael said it is difficult to touch on all the developments and topics stemming from the act.

Nick Dimassis, the debate’s organizer and moderator, said he chose the act as a topic because he felt it was relevant to students’ lives as well as the community.

Travis Tierney, a St. Thomas education student, said both debaters had informative views. In the end, though, Tierney said he agreed with Kirtley.

“I tend to be one who questions the government,” Tierney said. “I saw attorney Michael in a more paternal view.”

Elizabeth Putnam covers St. Paul campus and welcomes comments at [email protected]