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Rights being stripped away, panelist says

America under Bush "doesn't feel like it has to play by the rules," the Georgetown law prof tells a USF discussion.

Published May 26, 2006

TAMPA - The U.S. government has a habit of creating laws that strip foreign nationals of their freedoms then expanding them to take away rights of American citizens, a Georgetown University Law Center professor said Thursday.

David Cole delivered the keynote speech at the University of South Florida for a discussion titled "Executive Power in the War on Terror: Are There Any Limits?"

A Tampa FBI agent and the national director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations were among panelists who offered their views. The American Civil Liberties Union and CAIR organized the event.

Cole began his remarks to the more than 250 people with a history lesson about a bomb explosion in 1919 outside the home of then-U.S. Attorney General Alexander Mitchell Palmer, one in a series of explosions in different cities that day. The government responded, Cole said, by rounding up foreign nationals in what became known as the "Palmer raids."

J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI director, focused much of his time on trying to expand the Palmer raids so the government controlled U.S. citizens' rights, Cole said.

"These were mistakes that we should avoid, not mistakes we should repeat," said Cole. "The Bush administration has done just that."

Earlier this month, a controversy erupted over news reports that the National Security Agency has been secretly tracking millions of Americans' phone calls. Former NSA director Michael Hayden, who is seeking confirmation to become CIA director, defended the agency. He said everything the NSA did was lawful and that "appropriate members of Congress" are briefed on its activities.

David Welker, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI Tampa division, was part of the discussion.

He said the New York Times recently quoted the FBI as saying many of the leads it got from the NSA's unwarranted wire tapping were dead ends.

"I don't make foreign policy," Welker said. "If you don't like it, change it. You have the right to vote. Use it."

Cole said anti-Americanism outside the United States has grown so much that Osama bin Laden's approval rating has risen in some countries. That's far different from five years ago, when the world sympathized with the United States after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he said.

"You've got to ask why do they hate us?" Cole said. "America doesn't feel like it has to play by the rules."

Cole acted as defense attorney for Mazen Al-Najjar, a former University of South Florida instructor suspected of terrorist ties, as was his brother-in-law, Sami Al-Arian. Al-Najjar was held in jail for three years on secret evidence before the Sept. 11 attacks. He was deported in 2002.

Kevin Graham can be reached at 813 226-3433 or

[Last modified May 26, 2006, 06:19:13]

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