Back when the USA PATRIOT Act (short for the complete title of the massive bill — the “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act”) was being debated by the Congress in the weeks following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush Administration told the Congress the legislation had to be passed in order to protect the nation from any similarly destructive acts of terrorism in the future. I distinctly recall being informed that the Patriot Act was absolutely essential to stop acts of bio-terrorism and similarly dangerous and frightening acts that could lead to multiple if not massive casualties.
Well, here we are, almost exactly eight years after then-President Bush signed the Patriot Act into law, and what do we have? We have a respected Washington, DC public relations executive facing felony charges under the Patriot Act for allegedly “acting” or “appearing” drunk on a commercial airliner and — I kid you not — for making “mean faces” at a flight attendant. No, I’m not making this up. The allegation of making “mean faces” at the flight attendant is taken directly from an FBI affidavit.
The Patriot Act does make “interferring with flight crews” a felony offense carrying a maximum 20-year sentence. However, using this law as a bludgeon to beat up a citizen who might simply have had a disagreement with a flight attendant over a glass of wine, is a monstrous abuse of federal law and federal power. It represents “overciminalization” with a capital “O.”
Earlier this week, the US Department of Justice took the laudable step of issuing a new directive to United States Attorneys that they are not to prosecute citizens using medicinal marijuana, so long as the users do so in compliance with state law. Let’s hope Attorney General Eric Holder exercises similar common sense and discretion, in dismissing the charges against David Bass, the Continental Airlines passenger who might have made a face at a flight attendant and who now faces potentially in excess of 20 years in federal prison.