Reality Check: The divide between Criminal Law and the War On Terror

Published: Dec. 9, 2011 at 3:43 AM EST|Updated: Dec. 9, 2011 at 3:52 AM EST
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Wednesday night I told you how the opening question in the CNN National Security debate for the Republican candidates was focused around the Patriot Act.

As part of their answers to questions about the act, Republican candidates made clear that there is a divide between the war on terror and criminal law.

But is there?

Have you heard the adage that if you say something untrue, often enough, it will become true in the public's mind?

That may be happening with the Patriot Act.

According to former Governor Mitt Romney, and former Speaker Newt Gingrich, the Patriot Act should be strengthened but American citizens need not fear because these powers extend only to terrorism.

"Again, very sharp division. Criminal law, the government should be frankly on defense and you're innocent until proven guilty. National security, the government should have many more tools in order to save our lives."  said Gingrich during the debate.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul didn't agree.  He was alone in his stance that the Patriot Act steps on the Constitution.

"This is like saying that we need a policeman in every house, a camera in every house because we want to prevent child- beating and wife-beating. you can prevent crimes by becoming a police state. So if you advocate the police state, yes, you can have safety and security and you might prevent a crime, but the crime then will be against the American people and against our freedoms. And we will throw out so much of what our revolution was fought for. So don't do it so carelessly."  said Congressman Paul.

But is it Congressman Paul who is confused here?

After all, listen to how Romney and Gingrich explain it.  The average American has nothing to worry about with the Patriot Act because criminal law and the War on Terror are two different things.

"Newt Gingrich was right there are different categories here.  There is crime.  And there are certain rights that are afforded to citizens and those that are accused of crime.  And then there is war.  And the tool of war that is being used today in America and around the world is terror.  There is a different body of law that relates to war."  said Governor Romney.

But that is not true.

It is a nice idea that U.S. citizens are still protected and measures in the Patriot Act that step on the 4th amendments protection against unlawful search and seizure, won't be used unless its against terrorists.

But the facts don't support it.

According to a 2009 report from the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts, in 2008 the Feds used 763 warrant-less wire taps, a direct violation of the 4th amendment to the Constitution which protects against unlawful search and seizure.

It is a power granted to law enforcement under the Patriot Act.

But here is the kicker, 763 warrant-less wiretaps were used and only 3 of those cases involved suspected terrorism.  Only 3.

Furthermore, 65% of those cases were drug cases.

Here's what you need to know.

Lots of people out there may say, its ok that the Patriot Act was used in drug cases because you can show a correlation between drug activity and terrorism.

OK, but I can also show you a correlation between drug activity and violent crime, between violent crime and domestic violence, domestic violence and child neglect...

See where this goes?

Some Republican candidates may be trying to create a narrative of the war on terror being separate from criminal law and while it may be a good theory, in reality, it is simply not true.

The reality is, as far as the Patriot Act and law enforcement have been concerned, there is no divide between the War on Terror and criminal law.

And that is Reality Check.

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