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Patriot Act talk draws a crowd

Officials from the American Civil Liberties Union Wednesday — night urged conservative Southern Oregon to take a stand against the Patriot — Act.

David Fidanque, executive director of ACLU of Oregon, — said the Patriot Act doesn't make America safer, but undermines the basic — civil liberties on which the country was founded.

"The current administration and Congress have been doing — an end run around the Constitution," he said.

Fidanque spoke before 150 Southern Oregon residents and — apparent Patriot Act opponents at the Medford library during a statewide — tour to discuss its supposed threat to privacy.

He said the government had plenty of investigative tools — at its disposal before 9/11 that could have led to the arrest of the terrorists.

"It happened not because the government didn't have enough — power, but because people weren't talking to each other," he said.

If Jackson County took a stand against the Patriot Act, — Fidanque said it would send a message to U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith and Rep. — Greg Walden - both Republicans - to help bring about legislation.

Bill Mansfield, a member of the Citizens for Peace and — Justice, said his group will make another attempt in the coming weeks — to urge the Jackson County Board of Commissioners to pass a resolution — opposing the act.

Jan Lofthouse, retired attorney and Ashland educator, — said the act, along with an overzealous administration, gives the government — an overwhelming amount of power to conduct surveillance on Americans.

She said it has taken some congressmen and others time — to uncover all the ramifications of the act.

"It is a monster of an act as you know," she said. "It — is 340 pages."

Many people were sharply critical of the government's — handling of Brandon Mayfield, the Portland attorney mistakenly arrested — after the FBI had misidentified a fingerprint on a bag of detonators linked — to the Madrid train bombings.

Charles Carreon, an Ashland attorney, likened the Mayfield — case to the problems faced by Ashland peace activist Pete Seda, who is — in exile overseas because of inquiries the government has made into his — affiliation with the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation Inc.

"He knew his situation was in peril," said Carreon. "He — would be in indefinite hold as a material witness."

Ashland resident David Berger had received a phone call — Wednesday from Seda and said his friend was discouraged by the dim prospect — of returning home.

Berger said that after the phone call, he had difficulty — for 20 minutes getting an outside line, which he found suspicious. Another — audience member pointed out that Qwest was having problems during the — day with some phone connections.

Fidanque said the government is using flimsy associations — to go after people they deem suspicious. "Certain Muslims are guilty until — proven innocent," he said.

Donald Wells, a retired philosophy professor living at — Rogue Valley Manor, said that libraries in the '50s refused to cooperate — with government inquiries into information about patrons.

"If someone came to the Medford librarian, would she say — 'no' — " he wondered.

Lofthouse responded that the librarian "should refuse — to give consent. I think the FBI would back off quickly."

Radio personality Jeff Golden, who moderated the event, — said, "We are living in some of the scariest times in our lifetime as — far as our civil liberties go."