June 9, 2003
Last Thursday, Attorney General John Ashcroft testified before Congress in almost Nixonian phrases: "We did not violate the law," he said.
He was referring to questions raised by the Justice Department's own inspector general, who found that the FBI made "little attempt" to distinguish between potential terrorists and immigrants picked up on technicalities. The inspector general's report also revealed that the 762 Arab or Muslim immigrants were detained under a novel legal theory: "Hold until cleared"--cleared, that is, not by a judge but by Ashcroft himself.
Ashcroft did not concede that there was even a problem. "We make no apologies," he said.
On top of that, he had the chutzpah to ask for more power. He wants to be able to seek the death penalty for more terrorism crimes, he wants to broaden the definition of providing "material support" for terrorism, and he wants more power to detain terrorism suspects without bond, The New York Times reports.
And waiting in the wing is Patriot II, or what I call The Revenge of the Patriot Act. The Justice Department has already drafted this legislation and is ready to submit it to Congress the moment there is another terrorist attack on the United States. Patriot II would give Ashcroft the power, among other things, to strip natural-born citizens of their birthright to U.S. citizenship.
The last thing in the world Congress should give General Ashcroft is more power. He has already abused the power he has.
He has grossly violated the due process rights of Arab and Muslim immigrants.
He has trampled on the Sixth Amendment by issuing an edict that the prosecutors can now listen in to prisoner-lawyer conversations.
And he issued an edict that allows the FBI to spy on domestic political and religious groups in public.
John Ashcroft is out of control. And Congress ought to trim his power, not expand it.