Ashcroft on the Loose
December 3, 2001
The Attorney General is out of control. The speed and scope of his assault on the Constitution is mind-boggling.
His round-up of Muslim and Arab immigrants will surely go down in history as the Ashcroft Raids.
His edict to allow eavesdropping on lawyer-prisoner conversations makes a mockery of the Sixth Amendment, as did his denial of prisoner access to lawyers after September 11 (see Anne-Marie Cusac's "You're in the Hole").
And the Presidential order he concocted for military tribunals is the single most unconstitutional order since FDR authorized the internment of Japanese Americans in 1942.
But Ashcroft doesn't want to stop there.
According to the New York Times of December 1, he is "considering a plan to relax restrictions on the FBI's spying on religious and political organizations."
This would open the door for egregious violations, similar to the FBI's spying on Martin Luther King Jr. And it could bring back the days of the FBI's notorious COINTELPRO, which spied on, infiltrated, and sabotaged dissident groups such as the Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement.
The net effect would be to once again criminalize dissent in America, the First Amendment be damned.
Ashcroft himself seems thin-skinned when it comes to criticism. Maybe he wants to silence that, too.
"There have been a few voices who have criticized," he said on November 4. "Some have sought to condemn us with faulty facts or without facts at all. Others have simply rushed to judgment, almost eagerly assuming the worst of their government before they've had a chance to understand it at its best."
But it was the Founders who assumed the worst about government, and the worst about people with power, and so erected a system of checks and balances and enshrined a Bill of Rights that would guard against repression.
They didn't sit around and hope that government would act "at its best." They tried to assure us that when a branch of government, or a single individual, grabbed power, that branch or that individual would not be able to get away with it.
At hearings this week, Senators might want to remind him of that. And Russ Feingold should be the first, since he voted to confirm Ashcroft, saying we should give the guy a chance.
Well, he's taken it.