Once again, city council is poised to vote on the Joint Terrorism Task Force. So far, the debate is shaping up to be a bruising battle--and rightfully so. A lot's at stake: an opportunity for the new mayor to commit to civil liberties and a chance for city council to stand up against bullying federal laws like the Patriot Act. But not if The Oregonian has anything to do with it!

For the past few years, the council has unanimously approved the agreement that allows local and federal agents to work together. But at last year's hearing, councilmember Randy Leonard questioned the group's basic operating procedure: No one, not even the mayor or police chief, had any oversight to the task force.

This year, Leonard's opposition has become more vocal. And, if two other councilmembers join him, Portland will be the first city to disband its task force.

Yet, in spite of the acute concerns about basic civil liberties, a strong contingency continues to push for the task force. Most vocally, the Oregonian's editorial board has disturbingly--and ignorantly--admonished Leonard.

"Why PortlandÉ would want to leave the task force is beyond comprehension," an unsigned editorial argues, "unless you think Portlanders like living dangerously."

The Oregonian used similar scare tactics in their opposition to gay marriage; it's their hope to corner politicians by preying on the fears of uninformed readers. But doing away with the task force--or, at least setting in place appropriate oversight--in no way means that federal agents cannot or are unable to do their jobs. It just means they cannot operate with impunity and in secret.

The editorial continues in its frustrating ignorance: "If Portland thinks that the FBI-led task force is not following state or federal law, Portland shouldn't participate. But so far, no one has offered any evidence for that."

Okay, here's some evidence: A year ago, the task force in Fresno violated constitutional rights when they "infiltrated" a legal antiwar organization. This was discovered when the undercover agent died and one of the activists recognized him from an obituary.

Portland's city council and our new mayor have a remarkable opportunity to recalibrate how the war on terror is fought. It's high time our city government leads with knowledge and foresight--rather than fear and ignorance. PHIL BUSSE