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Patriot Act has not violated civil rights, Justice report says

The Justice Department has found no incidents in which the antiterrorism Patriot Act has been invoked to abuse civil rights or civil liberties but has identified instances of mistreatment of Muslims and Arabs that did not involve the act.

Tuesday's report probably will provide fodder for Bush administration efforts to persuade Congress to renew the law, which expires in 2005. The law, passed shortly after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, faces a legion of critics who contend its expansion of government surveillance powers violates constitutional free speech and privacy rights.

"It is clear that the government has been thoroughly responsible in its implementation of the act," said Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo. "As the president has said, it is vital that Congress reauthorize these provisions."

But Rep. John Conyers, senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee whose Michigan district includes many people of Arab descent, said the report failed to identify "a single punishment or sanction" imposed on a Justice Department employee found to have violated civil rights and civil liberties.

Under the Patriot Act, the Justice Department's inspector general is required to investigate allegations of civil rights and civil liberties abuses directed against Muslims, Arabs and others in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terror attacks blamed on Islamic extremists.

The new report by Glenn Fine, the Justice Department's inspector general, found 1,266 civil rights and civil liberties complaints were received between June 15 and Dec. 15, 2003. Of those, 17 involved Justice employees and merited a full investigation.

Most involved allegations of excessive force, verbal abuse and other alleged mistreatment at Bureau of Prisons facilities.

The report found no civil rights or civil liberties abuses specifically related to the Patriot Act, which authorized more phone wiretaps, expanded government search powers and enhanced other surveillance techniques.

Bush says Congress can make progress this year

WASHINGTON _ President Bush, hosting his first meeting of 2004 with the bipartisan leaders in Congress on Tuesday, said plenty can be accomplished even in the midst of election-year politics.

"We've got a lot of common interests this year _ interests of continuing to fight and win the war against terror; we need to protect our homeland; we need to put policies in place that help people find work; we'll work together on the health needs of our fellow citizens," Bush said.

He was joined by House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.; Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.; and other Democratic and Republican congressional leaders.

"This is an election year. It's the year where people say nothing can get done," Bush added. "I think we need to prove them wrong. We need to continue to do the people's business in a sound way."

Schwarzenegger violated election law, judge rules

LOS ANGELES _ A state judge has ruled Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger violated state campaign finance laws by using a $4.5-million bank loan to cover campaign costs in the closing days of the recall election last fall.

Judge Loren McMaster of Sacramento Superior Court said the loan violated provisions of Proposition 34, a ballot initiative passed by voters in 2000, which bans personal loans of more than $100,000 by candidates to their campaigns. McMaster issued a temporary injunction barring Schwarzenegger from raising any money to repay the loan and ordering him to put any money raised for that purpose in an escrow account.

Elsewhere . . .

GIRL SURVIVES FIVE DAYS ON OWN: A 3-year-old girl survived five days alone in a car after an accident that killed her mother in Arizona, authorities said. Angel Emery was airlifted Monday to Maricopa Medical Center, where she was being treated for dehydration and severe frostbite on her feet and was listed in good condition.

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