COLUMBUS, Ohio, June 9 (UPI) -- With the start of the war on terror approaching its fourth anniversary, President George W. Bush praised the suite of anti-terror laws called the Patriot Act Thursday for helping thwart new attacks and urged Congress to renew its sunset provisions.
Among those provisions set to expire at the end of the year are expanded powers to wiretap terrorist suspects, to share wiretap information between law enforcement agencies, and access to business records and other personal documents without first having to show probable cause.
"The terrorist threats against us will not expire at the end of the year, and neither should the protections of the Patriot Act," Bush said during a speech at the Ohio State Highway Patrol Academy.
The Patriot Act was the first legislative measure spawned by al-Qaida's attacks on New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, that took nearly 3,000 lives. Its aim was to immediately break down the regulatory and other walls that existed between law enforcement and intelligence agencies that hindered the flow of critical information -- the kind that might have helped catch the terrorists before the attack.
The Patriot Act provisions also allow the holding of terror suspects over longer periods and secret immigration proceedings.
Bush said its value had already been proven over three-and-a-half years. More than 400 terror suspects had charges filed against them, and more than half of those were convicted. Terror cells in New York, Oregon, Virginia and Florida have been broken up, he said.
"These efforts have not always made the headlines, but they've made communities safer," Bush said. "The Patriot Act has accomplished exactly what it was designed to do -- it has protected American liberty, and saved American lives."
It has also stirred up a hornet's nest of opposition, bringing together civil liberties and privacy advocates from the political left and right, who are concerned about the potential abuse by authorities of their expanded powers. The strange coalition includes the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Conservative Union.
"Most of the Patriot Act is already permanent and most of it is not problematic, but some of the provisions go too far," Lisa Graves, senior council for legislative strategy with the ACLU, told United Press International. Among her concerns is the authority to search personal documents and records without first having to prove to a judge a credible connection to terrorism, what she called "fishing expeditions" for information.
Supporters of making the controversial provisions permanent say there has been no credible evidence of their abuse by authorities, and Congress could always pass new legislation to curtail them later.
"I think the purpose of the sunset was concern that we stop and re-evaluate the Patriot Act vis-a-vis how the war on terror is going," said John Yoo, a law professor at the University of California-Berkeley and a former Justice Department attorney credited as one of act's main authors. "And the war on terror still continues, and I don't think anyone doubts the Patriot Act is helpful to catching terrorists.
"Why terminate useful provisions in wartime? If the war against terrorists, al-Qaida in particular, were to end, then it would make sense to remove some of the provisions, but that is not the case right now," Yoo said.
The jungle telegraph on Capitol Hill indicates all the provisions due to expire in December will be renewed, but there are likely to be some minor changes.
Bush said Thursday there were "unfair criticisms" of the Patriot Act. He said there was strong judicial branch oversight to ensure the law was fairly applied.
Among the cases Bush said came about because of the Patriot Act was the capture and conviction of a Columbus, Ohio, truck driver who had met Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and who authorities said plotted new bombing attacks after Sept. 11.
Lyman Faris was caught through information shared between U.S. intelligence and domestic law enforcement agencies, something not allowed before the Patriot Act.
"The case against him was so strong that Faris chose to cooperate," Bush said. "Today instead of planning terrorist attacks against the American people, Lyman Faris is sitting in an American jail."
Analysts said the arrest of a father and son in Lodi, Calif., this week for allegedly planning terrorist activity was another example of the Patriot Act working.
"It is critical to our national security, and I think what we saw go down in Lodi is proof of it," said Peter Brookes, an expert on intelligence and national security terrorism at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C.