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ACLU leader urges locals to stand against Patriot Act

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.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail