Welcome to the Greenbelt (note: this is archival; see The Greenbelt - the blogfor current views)

"Those who would give up essential liberty
to purchase a little temporary safety
deserve neither liberty nor safety."
—Benjamin Franklin

Bush & the DoJ(?) (was: & Ashcroft): A Bad Idea Whose Time Will Never Come


Everything Old Is New Again

Some things are pretty much the same things we've heard before. Like this:

FBI Spied on Denver Bookstore and Anti-War Protesters, New Documents Reveal (3/28/2006)

DENVER -- As part of a "domestic terrorism" investigation, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force conducted surveillance of a Denver bookstore on February 15, 2003 and monitored 40 people who gathered there to carpool to an anti-war demonstration in Colorado Springs later that day, according to an FBI report released today by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado.

"This report raises more questions about the degree to which the FBI is unjustifiably regarding demonstrations and public dissent as potential terrorism," said Mark Silverstein, Legal Director of the ACLU of Colorado. "Why is the FBI conducting surveillance of a bookstore, monitoring the persons who gather there, and keeping files with lists of license plate numbers?"

Paying Down Your Debt is Downright Unamerican!

Check out this story from Scripps-Howard on what can happen if you're fiscally responsible and try to pay off your credit card (short answer: The Department of Homeland Security will flag you as a possible terrorist and freeze your funds, that's what).

Those Pesky Warrants

You know - the FISA court is not exactly hard to convince. Less than .04% (that's four hundreths of one percent) are refused. And there's a judge on call, 24/7. And you can even ask for a warrant retroactively.

So why is it, again, that Bush didn't think we need to follow the law and ask for warrants?

Torture. Or not. Whatever.

Special secret camps. Renditions. No warrants. Redefining torture.

Which country am I living in, again?

Once It's Up and Running ...

Caroline Drees of Reuters writes that

A civil liberties board ordered by Congress last year has never met to discuss its job of protecting rights in the fight against terrorism, and critics say it is a toothless, under-funded shell with inadequate support from President Bush. ... Asked why it was taking so long to set the board up, Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) said, "It's not a priority for the administration." The intelligence reform law of December 2004 called for the oversight board in response to a recommendation from the Sept. 11 commission, which feared that increased governmental powers needed to fight terrorism could erode civil liberties. ... The Senate must still confirm the chairman and vice chairman after it returns from its summer recess. Asked for comment, the White House sent a copy of a June letter to Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) that said it would ensure the board had the resources to fulfill its mission and would reexamine the issue once the panel was up and running. The two senators had written to the White House expressing concerns about the board's budget, as well as delays in setting it up and implementing other parts of the 2004 law.
Once it's up and running, sure. Of course, a lot of other things are more important. I mean, it's only civil liberties.

And those, just as Rep. Shays says, aren't a priority for the administration.

It Was Too A Good Idea!

Gonzales wants the Patriot Act extended. He's a lot more affable than Ashcroft, but when it comes down to it, they're cut from the same cloth. As was to be expected - they're both W's boys, after all.

Not So Committed As All That, eh?

So W jumps onto Air Force One and races back to Washington, and signs the Schiavo bill in his pjs, and then defends the action passionately, talking about the need to "affirm life" -- and then vanishes into the shadows just as soon as it becomes obvious that more than three-quarters of the American public think he shouldn't have gotten involved in the first place.

So, exactly how strongly does he really feel about this? Is it all just politics after all?

Say it ain't so, Joe!

At Least the DoJ Didn't Weigh In...

The only good thing so far about the whole Terri Schiavo mess is that Gonzales has been keeping his mouth shut. Bush flies in from Texas to make a photo-op out of signing a bill that could have been flown to Texas just as quickly - but then he wouldn't be flaunting his willingness to interrupt yet another vacation, would he? (And let's not even talk about the spineless performance of the Senate - at least people in the House had the guts to say out loud the bill shouldn't even be there. The government has absolutely no business getting in between people and their doctors.) (Do I have an opinion on the case? No. I don't know enough. But the courts and the doctors have spent more than a decade studying this case. That's what they're there for.)

No. Wait. It's also a good thing that the Florida courts and legislature finally told Jeb where to get off.

So, We'll Just Stack the Courts...

President Bush announced yesterday his intention to renominate 20 people previously blocked by Senate Democrats for federal court seats, setting the stage for a renewal of the bitter partisan battles over the makeup of the federal judiciary.

The president's list includes seven appeals court candidates whose nominations were stalled on the Senate floor by Democrats, who said the nominees' conservative views were out of the mainstream. The other nominations never made it to the full Senate. Buoyed by his reelection and a four-seat Republican gain in the Senate, Bush said he will submit the nominees' names when the Senate returns to work next month.

Among the most prominent names on the list are Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Richman Owen, who was previously nominated for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit; California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown, previously nominated to a seat on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit; and former associate White House counsel Brett M. Kavanaugh, who was also nominated to the D.C. Circuit. William J. Haynes II, who served as Pentagon general counsel when controversial detainee policies were set, will again be a nominee for the 4th Circuit.

Another is former Alabama attorney general William H. Pryor, an outspoken abortion opponent, for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta. Pryor was appointed by Bush last year to the 11th Circuit while Congress was in recess; Pryor needs Senate confirmation to stay on the court.

And before anyone out there gets all righteous about the Democrats' blocking the nominations - let me just remind you that these are the only judges blocked, these far-right guys. The overwhelming majority of Bush's picks have been confirmed without any trouble.

But I think my favorite has to be -- and it's a tough call between him and Pryor (remember him? He called Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion-rights ruling, "the worst abomination" of constitutional law in our history. He recently urged the Supreme Court to uphold laws criminalizing gay sex, a position the court soundly rejected last month. He has defended the installation of a massive Ten Commandments monument in Alabama's main judicial building, which a federal appeals court recently held violated the First Amendment. And he has urged Congress to repeal an important part of the Voting Rights Act.) -- Kavanaugh, who helped Gonzalez with those torture memos. Just the kind of judge we need.

Well... Make That Some Courts...

As reported in the Post, Ashcroft told a meeting of conservative lawyers that court decisions limiting W's powers are part of "a profoundly disturbing trend" in which the judicial branch is injecting itself into matters that should be up to the executive branch. "The danger I see here is that intrusive judicial oversight and second-guessing of presidential determinations in these critical areas can put at risk the very security of our nation in a time of war," Ashcroft said.

So, I guess all that about the "rule of law" being "strengthened and upheld in the courts" was just meant to apply to those courts that roll over and play dead for the Attorney General? No big surprise there.

What's really "a profoundly disturbing trend" is this administration's (past and present) tendency to place itself above the rule of law and assert its right to do whatever it damn well pleases, to whomever it chooses, for whatever reasons occur to it, with no need to explain itself to anyone at all. In fact, W even cited that as one of the little perks of the job, feeling like he doesn't owe anybody an explanation.

Ashcroft said that the Constitution and its authors intended for the president to exercise broad authority in implementing federal laws and policies, including a "primary role in the making of all treaties and other international agreements for the United States." That might be right as far as it goes, but puh-lease. "Primary role" doesn't mean "free rein". The Senate has to ratify treaties, you know - it's right smack there in the Constitution, Article I, Section 8:

The Congress shall have Power... To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;
To provide and maintain a Navy;
To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
and in Article II, Section 2:
The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.
He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law
and in Article III, Section 2:
The judicial power shall extend to all cases, in law and equity, arising under this Constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made, or which shall be made, under their authority;--to all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls;--to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction;--to controversies to which the United States shall be a party;
It's right in there, in so many words: the Senate must "concur" on Treaties and "consent" on appointments, and the judiciary's power shall extend to "all" cases and treaties, and to "controversies". The founding fathers knew as well as Ashcroft and W where giving unfettered powers to the president would lead; the difference is, they didn't want to go there.

And W Picks.... Who We Figured He Would.

Yike! One day later, and we see that W has decided to appoint Al Gonzales. Well, he doesn't seem quite as bad as Ashcroft (who could?) but still... Let's think about this, shall we? Let's not get suckered into the whole Clarence Thomas trap again (though Gonzales is about a hundred times sharper than that man), not let them keep saying "oooo but's he's Hispanic! He was a migrant! He's a success story!" like that automatically makes him the right choice. I'm not saying he's not qualified, I'm not saying he won't do a good job. (I'm definitely not saying he won't be way better than his predecessor). What I am saying is, Let's look at his record.

W says, "His sharp intellect and sound judgement have helped shaped our policies in the war on terror." Well, that's certainly true. Gonzales

He also led the White House's denial to the Senate of any documentation of Estrada's activities (remember Estrada?) when the Judiciary Committee was basically saying, "Who is that guy?"

And then there's the whole Texas history, where Gonzales, one of Bush's cronies, has been with W since he was governor. He was part of Bush's inner circle of advisers in the good old days and he used to write briefs which helped Bush send many innocents to death, briefs which ignored evidence of innocence or of defense counsel incompetence ( though we don't know if he found the executions as funny and heart-warming as W did). Once he helped get Bush dismissed from jury duty (in, somewhat fittingly, a drunken driving case in Austin). Oh, yeah. He was also a partner at the law firm which represented the scandal-ridden energy giant Enron (remember Enron?).

Oh the other hand, Gonzales said the president "did not propose and does not support" a provision to a House bill that removed legal protections from suspects preventing their 'rendering' to foreign governments known to torture prisoners, and that Bush "has made clear that the United States stands against and will not tolerate torture." That would be more reassuring if (a) Gonzales didn't seem to have as his main goal in life keeping W out of trouble, (b) the president had actually opened his own mouth to say so, instead of keeping silent (at least we didn't have to listen to his whimpering about how powerless he is in the face of the House, like he did with the assault weapons ban), and (c) we hadn't already done it. To a Canadian, no less. But at least he's on record now as at least saying that at least Bush doesn't tolerate torture... And at least he seems aware of the importance of world opinion on a few things.

He also once wrote a ruling (about a minor trying to get an abortion without parental notification, in Texas) in which he, reasonably (wow!) and promisingly said: "Our role as judges requires that we put aside our personal views of what we might like to see enacted, and instead do our best to discern what the Legislature actually intended....Once we discern the Legislature's intent, we must put it into effect, even if we ourselves might have made different policy decisions." That would be more reassuring if he were up for a job on the Supreme Court instead of the AG's spot, where he can still help make policy, but it sort of sounds like he won't be running around the District, or the country, instructing judges and prosecutors on how to do their jobs. If so, that would be a very good change from Ashcroft.

Gonzales also says that if confirmed he would pursue policies aimed at "justice for every American." "On this principle, there can be no compromise," he says.

And after Ashcroft, who wanted justice for a certain subset of Americans, that's good to hear.

I'll be listening to those confirmation hearings with interest.

Oh, Frabjous Day! Calloo! Callay!, or, Through the Looking Glass and What Ashcroft Found There.

John Ashcroft has resigned!

I don't particularly anticipate W will appoint someone who will be a reasonable human being, let alone a half-way progressive or democratic one (even with a little "d"), but I do hope that there isn't another man in this country who'll enjoy being as rabid, destructive, and pure-dee hateful as Ashcroft.

I do hope it.

Shee.... What reality is he living in? "The objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved," said Ashcroft in his resignation letter, written the day after the election. Hey, presto: all the wolves have vanished!

Yes, sir; his work here is done. No more crime. No more terror. He can go, like Cincinattus, and rest on his farm in humble glory... and we can breathe a sigh of relief and get back to work. After all, because violent crime has continued its long downward trend, and al Qaeda has been striking at other countries (though sometimes at Americans in those countries...), we're "secured". Yah.

You know what he also said? "The rule of law has been strengthened and upheld in the courts." Why, yes it has. Like the courts that struck down the Gitmo hearings yesterday. Or the ones that overturned Ashcroft's one and only (out of 5,000 detained) conviction. Or the ones that hit the DoJ and hit them hard over that whole torture thing... Yes, the courts are upholding law. They're just not upholding Justice ... the Department of Justice, that is.

It Does Too Count

Well, in a bit of drama that wouldn't have been out of place in, say, "Law & Order" or "JAG", a uniformed Marine sergeant walked into a courtroom in the middle of Salim Ahmed Hamdan's "military commission" hearing and slipped the lead officer a note. That worthy leapt to his feet and booked out of the courtroom with the other two officers, and Mr Hamdan's lawyer looked out over the assembled crowd and said, simply, "We won."

What had they won? The right to have a special hearing to determine if Mr Hamdan was, in fact, an enemy combatant, a hearing as prescribed by the Geneva Conventions.

But the Justice Department disagrees. "Vigorously." In fact, they say, "The Constitution entrusts to the president the responsibility to safeguard the nation's security. The Department of Justice will continue to defend the president's ability and authority under the Constitution to fulfill that duty."

Funny, that. Another point of Constitutional law that the Justice Department has its own view of - you know, sort of like torture. After all, even during the V-word War, the Vietcong got those hearings, got treated like prisoners of war instead of whatever subhuman creatures this administration would like us to consider our new enemies. The ones we've been holding for three years, some of them, without charges.

Douglass Cassel, director of the Center for International Human Rights at the Northwestern University School of Law, said he hopes the Bush administration reconsiders its overall strategy in light of the Supreme Court's June decision and Robertson's ruling yesterday. "I hope the government sits back and says, 'This is a chance to regain the high ground in the court of public opinion,' " he said. "This decision is of enormous importance to the perceived commitment of the United States to the rule of law."

I wouldn't count on it, myself. Not based on their first reactions... or, for that matter, their reactions over the last three years. And this President thinks he has a mandate to do as he pleases (like he wasn't already)...

On Pain Of Toh-chuh!

So, after Abu Ghraib the President announced to the world that torture is "not American". He added when speaking to the UN recently that the U.S. "stands against and will not tolerate torture." The United States will, he says, "investigate and prosecute all acts of torture and undertake to prevent other cruel and unusual punishment in all territory under our jurisdiction". So we should feel better, right?


Of course, we've since begun to learn what the Washington Post correctly calls "the deeply disturbing truth about the legal opinions that the Pentagon and the Justice Department seek to keep secret." Yes, our Justice Department is pretty much in favor of torture, it turns out. First, they get their lawyers to redefine "torture" to mean injury inflicted primarily in order to do nothing but cause severe, in fact crippling, damage. (So if somebody's just trying to get you to talk, he's not torturing you.) Then they get those same lawyers to opine that even if it's torture, it's okay if the President authorizes it, because after all, it's just another one of those pesky international treaties.

And now we discover that they're pushing for a law making it legal for the US to deport people to a country where we know they'll be tortured. And they don't even have to be connected with that country, like that poor damned Canadian man we sent to Syria last year. Remember him? The one the Syrians tortured before he was finally released back to Canada? The one who wasn't even trying to come to the US, who was just passing through on his way home? The one who hasn't been arrested for anything?

Sure, torture's not an American value. But the Justice Department, according to its own spokesman, "really wants and supports" this bill. After all, outsourcing is American enough.

Our Last Colony

Sure, it was the House who voted to override the District's gun control laws. But Ashcroft has in the past made sure that the District's prosecutors knew and followed his gun-friendly leanings.

We should note here that it's not just a relaxation of the gun-control laws the House is after for the District: they want it not to be against the law to have an unregistered weapon. They want anybody and everybody to have guns, no matter what the locals and local government want.

Speaking of activist judges...

I see where Ashcroft & Cro. are again fulminating against activist judges.

They don't seem to count in that number the activist judges who put W in the White House, of course.

But, to get back on target: most of the gay marriages going on now aren't the work of activist judges. They're the work of activist mayors. You know. Elected public officials.

All of a sudden, we have to get the federal government involved because local jurisdictions aren't toeing the line. As Stephen Colbert remarked (he's a satirist, in case you don't know, or can't tell): "I know a constitutional amendment is drastic. But there's a societal trend out there I don't approve of, so what's my option?"

One man's sanctity...

By all means, let's keep marriage sanctified! You know. For...

Britney Spears. Serially monogamous politicians who like to dump their wives. The Bachelor. The Bachelorette. Joe Millionaire. The Littlest Groom.

And of course, most of all, for My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé


Two points about gay marriages and the polls:

(1) The generational tide is turning. Under thirty-five people approve more than disapprove, so eventually it's going to happen. Assuming you actually get an amendment, it'll go the way of Prohibition - amended out of force.

(2) More people approve of gay marriage now than approved of interracial marriage back in 1967 when the 'activist' Supreme Court decided that it was unconstitutional for "miscegenation" to be against the law. Sometimes the right thing isn't the popular thing. That's the way it is.

Check here for a letter to Dr Laura on gays and God's Law...

Why Worry? Why Not?

I can't think of a single reason to let John Ashcroft and his crew get their paws on the medical records of women who've had to lose a child by surgical abortions late in their terms. The man is on record as wanting to re-criminalize the procedure. Why shouldn't women who aren't criminals now legally but are in his minds not feel uneasy about him getting their records? Is there anything in this man's makeup or his record that makes you feel he could be trusted?

As the judge remarked the day that he acquitted my aunt Hortense...

It sounds fine, Ashcroft's renewed attack on pornography on the Internet, with one of those noble sounding titles: Child Online Protection Act. After all, who wants those adorable little five-year-olds stumbling across porn while surfing the net? (Unsurpervised five-year-olds? Oh, wait. That's a different problem, and not these New Republicans' concern. Parental responsibility is like states' rights: only for money, not morals.)

But it's a bit transparently timed, I think: rev up some conservative support for the President -- although only the timing counts. I mean, Ashcroft is obsessed with sex. Just ask Justice. He's had to shove it aside to deal with those nasty terrorsists, but since we won the war in Iraq he's free to go after the smut merchants again.

Of course, the law is designed to keep kids from seeing stuff that's perfectly legal. So it's going to be hard to decide exactly how hard it's supposed to be. Not to mention, what do you do if the site's in another country?

But the real problem, of course, is that old troublesome question of the slippery slope. After all, as Declan McCullagh points out on ZDNet (full article here)

In the not-so-distant past, obscenity law has been used to suppress unpopular ideas. Its victims include a literary review with works by Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs, Henry Miller's "Tropic of Cancer," the classic tale of "Fanny Hill," James Joyce's "Ulysses," and, in the last decade, comic book artist Mike Diana.

Obscenity prosecutions, in other words, tend to start with pornography but not to end there. In his dissent in a 1973 obscenity case, Justice William Douglas put it best: "Obscenity, which even we cannot define with precision, is a hodgepodge. To send men to jail for violating standards they cannot understand, construe and apply is a monstrous thing to do in a nation dedicated to fair trials and due process."

John Ashcroft is not the man I want deciding what's legal and what's not.

Gee, You Think?

Ted Bridis, AP, writes: "The Defense Department should have been more sensitive to concerns about potential government abuses of privacy from its highly criticized research project to predict terrorist attacks, the agency's inspector general has concluded."

Not, you'll note, more sensitive to actual abuses of privacy, just to "concerns" about it.. Bridis goes on to quote the report:

The report said the potential for U.S. police agencies to use the technology investigating citizens "has raised the effort to an unnecessarily heightened level of awareness and concern for both Congress and the public."
Don't you love that? It's raised our awareness of how the government spies on us to an "unnecessarily heightened level". Unnecessarily for whom?

And Bridis adds this bit of background:

Congress previously killed the Pentagon's vast computerized terrorism surveillance project, known as the Total Information Awareness project, but renamed the Terrorism Information Awareness after criticism.
It's nice to see something where naming it "Terrorism" didn't result in a kneejerk, kowtowing, forelock-pulling surrender...

Aw, C'mon... Let the FBI Look!

In a very cynical move, the Justice Department has squirreled away in one of the pending intelligence bills a measure that would let the FBI (that efficient and apolitical lot) look at anyone's records at any time from car dealers, travel agents, pawnbrokers, securities dealers, currency exchanges, post offices, casinos and many other businesses that deal in cash... just on their say-so.

Apparently they're not getting enough leads from libraries and book stores.

Leaning on Justice

The man just will not stop. Now he wants federal prosecutors to report any federal judge who, in full compliance with the law, hands down a sentence more lenient than the federal guidelines indicate. Does anybody wonder if judges who come in on the list often won't find themselves intimidated and investigated? More than that, the judiciary is supposed to be a co-equal branch—remember the Founding Fathers and the Constitution and checks-and-balances and all that? Ashcroft only does when he agrees with it (not what he said during his nomination hearings, by the way).

Federal prosecutors can already complain. They can (and do) decide when to appeal a sentence. Now, Ashcroft is turing the prosecutors into his lackeys (a stunt he's already pulled in the District) and taking away their iniative. Now, judges' sentences will be subject to DoJ review. And if Ashcroft has his way, the federal judges themselves will morph into minor civil servants, and not members of the third branch of government.

Even Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who can hardly be described as anything but conservative, has warned that collecting data on judges' sentencing practices "could amount to an unwarranted and ill-considered effort to intimidate individual judges."

Patriot Act Civil Rights Violations

Well, color me surprised. Dozens of cases of civil rights violations (34, to date) stemming from the post Sept 11 roundup of Muslims have been found "credible" by the DoJ's Inspector General.

In fact, this is the second IG report on the DoJ: In the first report, which was made public on June 2, the IG found that hundreds of illegal immigrants had been mistreated after they were detained following the attacks. Though that report brought widespread, bipartisan criticism of the Justice Department, it defended its conduct at the time, saying that it "made no apologies for finding every legal way possible to protect the American public from further attacks." (No comment by the DoJ on the fact that *none* of those detained were ever connected with terrorism in any way shape or form.)

Ms. Comstock, a DoJ spokeswoman, has said that the department had been sensitive to concerns about civil rights and liberties after the attacks, and that the department had been aggressive in investigating ethnic "hate crimes" linked to backlash from the attacks. "We've had 13 federal prosecutions of 18 defendants to date, with a 100 percent conviction rate," she said. "We have a very aggressive effort against post-9/11 discrimination."

Except, apparently, within the DoJ itself.

Never Apologize!

Now Ashcroft refuses to even apologize to the families of those he's kept locked up for months, even to those he flat-out lied to about whether their husbands or sons were under arrest (oops. I meant "detained"; after all, none of them were ever actually arrested). All he does is say that if they'd let someone go and he committed "another terrorist act" they'd have been responsible.

Well, sure. Just a couple of things...

No one's saying they should have been let go. Just that you guys should have admitted you were holding them. And maybe that you should have actually charged them with something!.

And "another" terrorist act? Another? Johnny-boy, not one (and I don't mean several; I mean NOT EVEN ONE) of them was ever connected to a single terrorist act.

Not If He Has Anything To Say About It (and boy does he)

Across the Federal government, gay employees are celebrating this month. Except not at the DoJ, where Ashcroft flat refuses to allow it. Not that he refuses to allow any other such "X Month" celebrations mind you, which would at least have the benefit of being equally intolerant. But like the rest of the small coterie of bigots in charge of this administration, Ashcroft equates being gay with being subhuman.

This reminds me of the Pentagon's decision to bring Franklin Graham (demonizer of Islam) in to have a celebratory Good Friday service ... while disallowing the Muslims at the Pentagon to have their regular service at all that day.
Footnote: the Supreme Court has slapped this attitude in the face! Yay!

Get 'Em While You Can

Attorney General John Ashcroft has signed an order giving FBI agents and U.S. marshals authority to arrest people on immigration violations, a power that initially will be used to detain several dozen Iraqis suspected of posing a wartime threat. The order took effect Feb. 28, the last day that the Immigration and Naturalization Service and its enforcement laws fell under Justice Department jurisdiction. The INS ceased to exist the next day, when it was folded into the Homeland Security Department.

So, Ashcroft changed the laws around so that he personally still runs the group that can arrest immigrants. I guess Tom Ridge is too soft, or something.

And despite all the list making, especially the one that uses the number of mosques in an area as a guage for terrorist-watching, Muslims aren't supposed to worry. After all, the FBI is our friend. Right? Those who remember COINTELPRO are, strangely, not soothed.

Ashcroft Defends Religious Initiative

"Quoting Scripture, Attorney General John Ashcroft may have sounded more like a preacher than a politician at an address to a conference of religious groups.

The speech Monday endorsing the Bush administration's faith-based initiative marked one of the most high-profile pronouncements on the issue from the nation's top law enforcement official.

"Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me," Ashcroft said, quoting the Old Testament Psalm 103 to open his lunchtime speech. "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits." The crowd of about 1,000 religious service workers responded with delighted laughter. Crusading for the White House plan, Ashcroft noted that although the government now runs social services, the first Americans to deal with drug addiction, orphaned children and other social issues had been those from religious groups. Ashcroft said President Bush is determined to level the playing field between secular and religious groups. "Unfortunately, over the last several decades, the government has discriminated against people of faith who are striving to do good for others," Ashcroft said.

"I find it sad that the person who ought to be the top law enforcement official in America is actively trying to erase both civil rights and First Amendment protections," said the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Criticism has centered mainly on a provision allowing groups to get federal funding even if they make hiring decisions based on a job applicant's faith. "This is an insurmountable civil rights problem," Lynn said.

You tell him, Barry. It's not the AG's place to make law. He's supposed to enforce the laws that exist.

Federal Judge rules against Ashcroft

A federal judge ruled in August that the Bush administration had no right to conceal the identities of hundreds of people arrested after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, and she ordered that most of their names be released within 15 days. She said that while it was the obligation of the executive branch to ensure the physical security of American citizens, "the first priority of the judicial branch must be to ensure that our government always operates within the statutory and constitutional constraints which distinguish a democracy from a dictatorship."

Absolutely. This is the point. It's been made in a million movies and tv shows: if we act like the enemy, we've lost. We are a democratic republic. We have the rule of law. The DoJ can't just decide to overturn the law because they want to... they would have to show compelling cause that it's the right thing to do. And they haven't. Instead, they say things like they "firmly believe that the information sought by the plaintiffs, if released, could jeopardize the investigation and provide valuable information to terrorists seeking to cause even greater harm to the safety of the American people." (Ass't AG Robert McCallum)

Except the "information sought" is the most basic: the names of those who've been incarcerated. Does anyone honestly think that if those people are in terrorist organizations that their months-long absence hasn't been noted? It's the innocent ones whose families don't know what's happened to them.

This ruling is right. Period.

Father knows best, Ashcroft style

Now the AG isn't content with locking people up on suspicion and throwing away the key. He's overriding the decisions of his own federal prosecutors. In more than a dozen recent cases, he's instructed them to seek the death penalty in cases where they didn't think it was warranted. In one case, he even ordered them to throw out a plea bargain to seek the death penalty—good move, that; it'll certainly encourage people to cooperate.

Moreover, he's running the courts in the District of Columbia like his own little fiefdom, allowing his own personal bias on gun control to override his promise that he wouldn't ever, not ever, do just that very thing on any of the issues where he disagrees with the Supreme Court. Prosecutors in the District, all of whom are technically under direct DoJ control (since the District isn't a state), have been ordered to submit every single case which has a gun-control aspect to the DoJ for review, in case Ashcroft can find some way to overturn the District's law. This isn't the first time an AG has tromped on the District's right to make its own laws (oops... they must not have that right, I guess), but it's certainly one of the most biased and egregious.

Memo to those senators who thought this man was telling them the truth in his confirmation hearings: not to say "I told you so" but ... jeeze.

"Enemies in our own backyard" include Greens

Now Ashcroft's DoJ wants to have police collect information (a phrase, as Lemony Snickett might say, that here means spy) on "the Green Movement", which they define as "environmental activism that is aimed at political and social reform with the explicit attempt to develop environmental-friendly policy, law and behavior."

Say what?

This means if you write a letter to the editor suggesting that perhaps a new storage unit doesn't really have to be built on a formerly forested ridge, or that maybe we should think about driving fewer 10-mpg SUVs, or that perhaps drilling for oil in the Alaskan preserves is a bad idea, you're an eco-terrorist and the police can spy on you.

Think I'm making this up? Read "A Police Response to Terrorism in the Heartland: Integrating Law Enforcement Intelligence and Community Policing", which is the curriculum at the DoJ's Regional Coummunity Policing Institute at Wichita State University. Yeah. The DoJ thinks that trying for social reform with an explicit attempt to develop law or behavior is terrorism.

American Friends Service Committee: Criminal Extremists

At least in Colorado, where police maintain extensive files and dossiers on thousands of people belonging to 208 organizations. Doubtless some of those organizations are radical, not that Colorado has actually managed to find any activities or even any tendencies to criminal behavior. But the Chiapas Coaliton? Amnesty International? The American Friends Service Committee? Who's next?

Basically this is the totally predictable result of letting law enforcement off the leash: the dynamic tension between keeping the peace and allowing freedom always goes to the "prove you're innocent" side when the cops are in charge. It can't go otherwise: that's their job. But it's not the American way.

From day one, Americans have believed in "prove he's guilty". We've been willing to accept the risk that comes with that. Let's not throw in the towel and become what we're afraid of just to buy that extra bit of illusive safety.

"I believe the Justice Department has gone too far."

With those words, Republican Congressman James Sensenbrenner (Wisconsin), the House Judiciary Committee Chairman, called for AG Ashcroft and FBI Director Mueller to testify before his committee on why "regulations on domestic spying that have worked so well for the last 25 or 26 years have to be changed."

It's a fair question. We should remember just why those regulation are in place: because the FBI had gotten completely out of hand, turning into a private spy-cum-cop agency for the agendas of the president. Tens of thousands of citizens, whose only offense was to disagree with Nixon et al., were spied on. Civil liberties were scorned: "There's a war on." Sound familiar? And today's technology only makes the potential for abuse greater.

The Bush administration's guidelines allow the FBI to monitor Internet sites, libraries, churches, and political organizations. Nowhere is there any check; we have to trust Ashcroft when he says the decision will not allow abuses. Oh? If it's not forbidden, it's allowed. Anybody out there really think the FBI won't do anything it can? Especially when it's now being castigated for not doing enough?

As Mr. Sensenbrenner says, "I get very, very queasy when federal law enforcement is effectively saying, go back to the bad old days when the FBI was spying on people like Martin Luther King."

From The Nation on line:

Operation Enduring Liberty

by David Cole

Those who believe that civil liberties are a bedrock of a healthy and secure democracy are beginning to win support in cases stemming from the events of September 11. As shock has given way to a renewed appreciation for the rule of law, courts have stood up to Attorney General John Ashcroft and for civil liberties from Detroit, Michigan, to London, England.

In recent weeks:

Ashcroft is losing even in London, where a judge in April dismissed extradition proceedings against Lotfi Raissi, an Algerian man whom US authorities had initially identified as the "lead instructor" of some of the September 11 hijackers but ultimately could not even prove had falsified an application for a pilot's license.

New challenges are being filed almost daily. In April the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a nationwide class action contesting the government's pretextual use of immigration authority to detain Arab and Muslim foreign citizens long after they have agreed to leave the country. The center has also brought two suits claiming that the detentions at Guantánamo Bay violate constitutional and international law. A lawyer for a terrorism suspect has sued Ashcroft over his new policy authorizing government officials to listen in on attorney-client conversations without probable cause or a judicial warrant. And an Indian man apprehended on September 12 with box cutters, and still being held, recently challenged the government's conduct in holding him for nearly two months without access to a lawyer.

The more candid of the Administration's defenders might now concede that civil liberties have been curtailed. But if we have prevented another terrorist attack, who's to say it's not worth the cost? The trouble is, one cannot know what might have happened had the government respected basic principles like due process, political freedom and the rule of law. But a single fact suggests that the claims of efficacy are overstated: Of the more than 1,500 people arrested since September 11 in the dragnet investigation of that day's crimes, not one has been charged with any involvement in the crimes under investigation.

Go here for the rest of this article in "The Nation".


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