A sweeping new anti-terrorism bill drafted by the Justice Department would dramatically increase government electronic surveillance and data collection abilities, and impose the first-ever federal criminal penalties for using encryption in the U.S.
In January 2001, a remarkably broad coalition of civil rights and other public interest organizations opposed the confirmation of John Ashcroft as U.S. Attorney General. People For the American Way helped lead that effort, and produced more than 80 pages of reports analyzing John Ashcroft's long public record. Those reports documented a career notable for its commitment to right-wing ideology, its lack of demonstrated commitment to fairness and equal opportunity, and its insensitivity to the rights of women and minorities.
One year later, Ashcroft has done much to ensure his legacy as a right-wing ideologue who is willing to bend the Constitution and laws to his worldview, disregard the constitutional principle of checks and balances, and endanger Americans' basic rights and freedoms. This People For the American Way Foundation report reviews his actions both before and after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that have an impact on a range of civil rights and civil liberties.
[via Interesting People]
Bad Faith: on the tendency by Bush and Ashcroft to include only the religious in their world view.
A month or so ago, in a speech to the National Religious Broadcasters' annual convention, Attorney General John Ashcroft said the following: "Civilized individuals, Christians, Jews, and Muslims, all understand that the source of freedom and human dignity is the Creator. Governments may guard freedom. Governments don't grant freedom. All people are called to the defense of the Grantor of freedom, and the framework of freedom He created." And with those words, Ashcroft encapsulated everything that is admirable, and everything that is awful, about the Bush administration's understanding of religion in the United States.
Ashcroft's broad edict, issued in October in the wake of the terrorist attacks, encourages government officials to find reasons to withhold information, and signals that the Justice Department will back them up. This is a significant departure from the general policy of openness adopted by former Attorney General Janet Reno, who advised officials to release records unless disclosure would result in foreseeable harm. While Ashcroft frames the issue as one of national security in a time of war, his memo also directs officials to be mindful of "institutional, commercial, and personal privacy interests" when considering FOIA requests.
[via wood s lot]
You may think it unfair to pull a broader message from this tiny and
relatively sweet incident. You may think Ashcroft's gesture does not
necessarily bespeak some sort of larger truth about the current
administration, its value system, the direction of the country, the
overall misogynistic, monastic, dangerously unprogressive,
hypocritical attitude of our leaders as a whole, or how we are
enjoying at this very moment what is easily the most conservative,
sexually terrified, ill-humored, anti-choice regime in 50 years.
You would be wrong.
[via Unknown News]
The National Association of Immigration Judges has filed a report with Congress asking to be removed from the Justice Department's control, in part because of complaints that America's "core legal values" are being undermined since 9/11. [via Undernews]
Ashcroft has ordered and installed a set of $8,000 drapes to cover two semi-nude statues in the Justice Department building so he doesn't have to have his photos published with them in the background.
What he does not think is helpful to the country is misstatements and
the spread of misinformation about the actions of the Justice
Department. Anyone who reported this morning that he
criticized anyone who opposed him was absolutely wrong and in doing so
became a part of the exact problem he was describing.
- Mindy Tucker, Justice Department spokeswoman
It is early, but I've had a pot of coffee and I think I understand this. Anyone who criticized his statements by claiming that he said his critics were aiding the enemy is part of the problem he was describing? This was supposed to be a helpful clarification?
OK, maybe I'm not done. I normally hate Crossfire. But I had it on last night while reading the paper, and this comment by Bob Beckel made the whole barrage of people talking over each other worthwhile:
Well, I tell you what we are going get a chance to talk about that and talk about John Ashcroft's rather irregular interpretation of the constitution -- how it deals with the over one thousand people that have detained in this country and we will talk about that when we get back. Is it legal or is it Ashcroft?
Since lives and liberties depend upon clarity, not obfuscation, and reason, not hyperbole, let me take this opportunity today to be clear: Each action taken by the Department of Justice, as well as the war crimes commissions considered by the President and the Department of Defense, is carefully drawn to target a narrow class of individuals -- terrorists. Our legal powers are targeted at terrorists. Our investigation is focused on terrorists. Our prevention strategy targets the terrorist threat.
Since 1983, the United States government has defined terrorists as those who perpetrate premeditated, politically motivated violence against noncombatant targets. My message to America this morning, then, is this: If you fit this definition of a terrorist, fear the United States, for you will lose your liberty.
We need honest, reasoned debate; not fearmongering. To those who pit Americans against immigrants, and citizens against non-citizens; to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty; my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists - for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies, and pause to America's friends. They encourage people of good will to remain silent in the face of evil.
Now, in a perfect world with perfect people who have perfect judgment, I wouldn't have so much of a problem with this. But if we were in that kind of fantasy world Ashcroft wouldn't have been giving that statement anyway. I fully believe the intention is to go after what reasonable people (or at least people I'd think are reasonable) would consider a terrorist. But let's play connect the dots for a minute.
Part of Ashcroft's statement just isn't true: "Since 1983, the United States government has defined terrorists as those who perpetrate premeditated, politically motivated violence against noncombatant targets." On multiple occasions since 9/11 Bush has stated an expanded definition of a terrorist:
And not only will we find the terrorists, we will enforce the doctrine
that says if you harbor a terrorist, you're a terrorist; if you feed a
terrorist, you're a terrorist; if you fund a terrorist, you're a
terrorist; and this great, proud nation of free men and women will
hold you just as responsible for the actions that take place on
(October 17, Travis Air Force Base, California)
I also want to make it clear that the doctrine I laid out to the
United States Congress is a doctrine this nation will enforce. It says
clearly that if you harbor a terrorist, if you feed a terrorist, if
you provide sanctuary to a terrorist, if you fund a terrorist, you are
just as guilty as the terrorist that inflicted the harm on the
(October 30, Wootten High School, Maryland)
Again, I don't have much of a problem with this definition in theory. But this isn't theory.
The Holy Land Foundation was shut down the other day under that doctrine. Maybe they are as closely tied to Hamas as the FBI investigation apparently determined, maybe their only tie was support for the families of suicide bombers as CAIR claims is the only explicit charge in this statement, or maybe they gave no knowing support at all. I don't know. But if we can follow Bush's doctrine to, rightly or wrongly, label a charity that allegedly provided funds to Hamas "as guilty as the terrorist", is it that much of a stretch to label those who donated to that charity potential supporters of a terrorist organization and thus potentially terrorists themselves?
It could be argued, and has been many times, that we don't have to worry about these laws and Administration policies infringing on our civil liberties because they apply only to non-citizens. But think about this: If you've lived in the U.S. all your life - a citizen by birth, how exactly do you go about proving that? Think about every document you could produce, and think about all the reports of people with forged copies of that same document, or copies obtained based on falsified information. Think about having to prove that those documents are valid and belong to you. And think about doing it from a jail cell while being held on suspicion of having a terrorist link.
That is why we have to question the effect of the (very worthwhile and completely justified) fight against terrorism on our civil liberties, even if that effect turns out in the long run to be a "phantom". These laws and policies are not intended to apply to normal peaceful citizens. But they easily can. And it's entirely possible they already have.
I'm done now.