The Lackawanna Six - President George W. Bush Visits Buffalo


The Lackawanna Six - President George W. Bush Visits Buffalo


On April 20, 2004, President George W. Bush came to Buffalo to push for an extension of the Patriot Act, which granted the FBI the right to secretly conduct surveillance activities on American citizens without proving probable cause. This included physical searches and wiretaps.

President Bush maintained that The Patriot Act had been instrumental in the arrests of the so-called “Lackawanna Six,” a group of friends from a small city outside of Buffalo, New York who attended a al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan just months before the 9/11/2001 terror attacks on the United States.

While President Bush had referred to these men as belonging to a “terrorist cell,” their defense attorneys said the six had been lured to attend the camp, not realizing what it was all about. After being addressed by al-Qaeda leader Osama bin-laden, most tried to leave the camp early. According to their attorneys, they wanted nothing more to do with al-Qaeda.

Faced with a trial and potentially lengthy prison sentences, they all pleaded guilty to “providing material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization.” They received sentences of seven to ten years in prison and agreed to share information with the US government.

WIVB-TV senior Correspondent Rich Newberg reports on President Bush’s visit to Buffalo and the Patriot Act support he received from US Attorney Michael Battle and Buffalo FBI Agent In Charge Peter Ahearn.

Four days after the president’s visit, Fox News journalist Geraldo Rivera conducted a debate on the Patriot Act during a live Fox News Channel cablecast originating from Buffalo’s City Hall. “At Large with Geraldo Rivera” took a second look at the case of the The Lackawanna Six.

In reviewing the case, Rivera reports that the FBI had been tipped off by an anonymous letter that a group of Arab Americans that had traveled to Afghanistan was there to “meet bin-Laden and stay in his camp for training.” Rivera states that the men had told their neighbors they were going to Pakistan for religious instruction.

President Bush had stated that the Patriot Act “helps us to be able to connect the dots.” However, University at Buffalo constitutional law professor Dr. Lee Albert maintained that The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 had already allowed the CIA and FBI to cooperate in the Lackawanna Six case. “I don’t think the Patriot Act had a lot to do with this case,” he said.

FBI Special Agent Peter Ahearn disagreed and said, “The dots were connected” through the Patriot Act. He said shared information between the CIA and FBI led to the connection to a foreign terrorist organization. He said it had started as a criminal investigation but that the “spin of this case” changed. He added that seeing “the whole picture” helped reveal “how al-Qaeda operated overseas.”

During the debate, Patriot Act proponent Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute maintained that there had been “utter paralysis in the country’s intelligence community before 9/11.” She added, “For months after 9/11 the political community, the media, was railing against our failure to connect the dots. The Patriot Act solved that.”

Patriot Act critic, former US attorney Bob Barr, said there has never been a federal law that prohibits intelligence agents and prosecutors to talk with each other. He said there is a danger that the Patriot Act could be used “as a subterfuge to undermine the Bill of Rights.” He added, “If we say, well prosecutors should be able to get anything, anytime, anywhere that they want simply because they say it’s to fight terrorism, then we might as well just throw the Bill of Rights, and especially the 4th Amendment (the right against unreasonable searches and seizures) out the window, and I don’t think we ought to do that as a country.”




Rich Newberg Reports Collection


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