The USA Patriot Act has been a critical tool in fighting the war on terror -- not an arbitrary restriction on civil liberties -- the act's co-author said Friday during a visit to Lawrence.
Viet Dinh defended the Patriot Act, part of the Bush administration's response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, during two speeches and an interview with the Journal-World.
"The success of our intelligence and law enforcement officials in preventing another terrorist attack on the American homeland would not have been possible without the tools that Congress gave them in the USA Patriot Act," Dinh said. "The threat of terror is real, and we should not disarm these brave men and women as they seek to protect us against that threat."
Dinh was in Lawrence as part of "The New Normal: The Law and the War on Terror Three Years After September 11," a conference sponsored by the Kansas University School of Law.
He served as U.S. assistant attorney general from May 2001 to May 2003 and was involved in the drafting of the Patriot Act, which expands the powers of federal law enforcement authorities, allowing broader wiretapping authority and access to records of patrons of libraries, bookstores and other businesses.
Dinh now is a law professor at Georgetown University.
The Patriot Act has drawn criticism from individuals and groups across the country who say it infringes on civil rights. The Lawrence City Commission in April joined more than 300 communities nationwide in approving a resolution condemning the act.
But Dinh said most of the arguments against the act were based on "confusing, misleading information."
"I fully respect the desire of local representatives to weigh in on this important issue," he said. "I only hope that their contributions add light to the conversation rather than turn up the heat, and that they are predicated upon enlightened judgment and good facts rather than the bloviated rhetoric and inflamed passion of extreme interest groups."
Though issues such as access to library records are gaining the most attention from the act, Dinh said he thought breaking down barriers in the exchange of information between law enforcement and intelligence officials was the most important portion of the Patriot Act.
Dihn faced opponents of the act throughout his visit to Lawrence. Roughly 15 student protesters met Dinh on Friday night as he entered the Dole Institute of Politics for his second speech, though the atmosphere inside the auditorium was civil.
Still, several of the attendees openly challenged Dihn's defense of the Patriot Act in an audience participation forum.
Vibha Shetiya, a master's student in KU's religious studies program from India, asked Dihn about the act's effect on foreigners. She said she was disappointed that Dihn's justification of the act did not take a global perspective.
"He talked a lot about how terrorism has affected the United States, but he didn't talk about how the United States has been responsible for terrorism in other parts of the world," she said.
Although the act remains a political lightning rod, Dinh said he would continue defending it.
"I do not feel embattled by uninformed and misguided attacks, which are often personal and hurtful in nature," he said, "because I am forever grateful that I had the chance to serve my country in her hour of greatest need to the best of my abilities, however limited they may be."
-- Staff writer Jay Senter contributed to this report