Well of course they were misused, horribly, resulting in tragedies like Maher Arar's months in a Syrian prison and a string of scandals in the US. But those were all still, at least, terrorist related.
The Bush government has now misused the US Patriot Act for purely partisan purposes - for purposes so partisan that they make Nixon look like a wussy. The March 26 New Yorker ("Winds on Capital Hill - Bullets") reports that the recent firing of US attornies and their replacement with highly partisan Republicans would not have been possible without the Patriot Act, becase US attorneys must be confirmed by Congress. The article goes on,
[The new US attorneys] did not undergo a confirmation process before the Senate Judiciary Committee, as is required by the Constitution. Instead, the President appointed [them] under a little-noticed provision of the 2006 renewal of the Patriot Act, which allows for the indefinite appointment of an interim US Attorney without Senate approval. Ostensibly, the provision was intended to be used in situations where national security might be at stake, such as the death of a sitting US Attorney resulting from terrorist attack.The really scary thing about this is that the new powers were added to the Patriot Act only last year, and the firings began almost immediately. I cannot believe that it was an accident that these new powers were slipped in under the radar. This was almost certainly a deliberate move to subvert the Constitution.
This information in the New Yorker is not new. If you google
"patriot act" "us attornies"
you'll find hundreds of links to blogs and comment sections where people are talking about it. But there aren't many MSM articles, and I couldn't find any that used this fact in a headline. Even the New Yorker article just mentions it in passing.
A lot of Americans are feeling that the firing of the US attorneys may not be such a big deal because Clinton fired US attorneys as well. However, when Clinton proposed replacements, they had to be approved by Congress. There are other differences - the recent firings are scathingly, cynically political. Bush targeted attornies who refused to persecute Democrat candidates before the last election and he put in some shady characters, some of whom would likely not have passed Congressional scrutiny.
These new attorneys are there for one purpose - to disrupt the next election. The New Yorker article focuses on one new US attorney, Tim Griffin, who has a history of targeting black voters for voter challenges - and that was back when he was just an aide to Karl Rove, and didn't have prosecutorial powers. If this situation is not corrected, we can expect an even higher level of voter fraud in the 2008 election than we've seen in the last seven years.
What may be happening here is that Bush and his administration are being sacrificed to ensure a Republican victory in the next election. After all, Bush can't run again (at least not that Bush), and they can work on rehabilitating his legacy later.
Update/Mea culpa: When I realized that "attorney" was not pluralized as "attornies" but as "attorneys" the Google search got a lot more main-stream hits. Sorry about that.