WASHINGTON -- President Bush values debate over the Patriot Act but still intends to seek congressional reauthorization of the entire act, President Bush's homeland security adviser said Thursday.
Frances Townsend told a meeting of the American Bar Association in Washington that although it is important to debate the balance between freedom and security, it is "equally important that we not permit this valuable tool to be caught up in unnecessary rhetoric."
Townsend urged the assembled lawyers to help the country "divorce this from partisan politics."
Elements of the USA Patriot Act are set to expire at the end of this year. The law has been a crucial component of the government's war on terror since it was passed in October 2001.
President Bush and U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales have publicly called for Congress to reauthorize the expiring portions. Several members of Congress have already said they want changes made to the law.
Addressing one of the most controversial points of the Patriot Act, Townsend recalled asking an audience to raise their hands if they were concerned about the law's "library records provision."
"Probably 70 percent of hands went up," Townsend said. "And people were really stunned that there is nowhere in the Patriot Act the mention of library records."
Critics point to Section 215 of the act, arguing that it unconstitutionally expands investigators' powers to obtain records to the point where library records could be seized.
Section 215 states investigators may ask a judge's permission to search "books, records, papers, documents, and other items for an investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, provided that such investigation of a United States person is not conducted solely upon the basis of activities protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution."
Townsend cited successes in other aspects of "the president's chosen path to ultimate victory" in confronting terrorism, including increasing funding for law enforcement and homeland security, and freezing $142 million of terrorist assets worldwide.
She said that through offensive strategies, the United States has made allies of Afghanistan and Iraq, and that Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Libya have also joined "the struggle against evil."
Of the destruction of Libyan chemical munitions, Townsend said, "When the civilized world demonstrated its determination, the Libyan government correctly judged its own interests, and the American people are safer."
However, Townsend said, there are still governments that sponsor and harbor terrorists. "We must be unanimous in our strong condemnation of such state sponsorship of terrorism and demand its end in our lifetime."
A former prosecutor, Townsend closed by honoring as heroes the judge, court reporter, and sheriff's deputy killed in Atlanta last week, along with the judge in Chicago whose husband and mother were killed earlier in February.