Viewpoint: Ashcroft is a menace

Viewpoint: Ashcroft is a menace

By Joe Baker, Senior Editor

Jonathan Turley, a professor of constitutional and public interest law at George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C., is calling for the resignation of Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Turley is also a defense attorney in national security cases. He is both incensed and alarmed at Ashcroft’s plan to put U.S. citizens into detention camps if he decides they are enemy combatants.

That intent, says Turley, has moved the fanatical attorney general from just a political embarassment to a constitutional menace. Since Ashcroft rammed the unconstitutional USA Patriot Act through a comatose Congress, he has shredded more of the Bill of Rights than any other chief law enforcement officer in the history of the country.

Two Americans are being held in military brigs as “enemy combatants”, meaning they enjoy no constitutional rights such as a lawyer, a hearing or even being charged with an offense. They are Yaser Hamdi and Jose Padilla. The government reluctantly granted Padilla a lawyer and intends to have a trial. Hamdi remains in a Navy brig aboard ship at Norfolk, Virginia without any outside contact.

When a federal judge asked the government how long they intended to hold Hamdi without charges and without rights, he was told, in effect, that it’s none of his business.

Nat Hentoff, writing in New York’s The Village Voice, quoted Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Tribe. Tribe told ABC’s Nightline: “It bothers me that the executive branch is taking the amazing position that just on the president’s say-so, any American citizen can be picked up, not just in Afghanistan, but at O’Hare Airport or on the streets of any city in this country, and locked up without access to a lawyer or court just because the government says he’s connected somehow with the Taliban or al-Qaeda. That’s not the American way. It’s not the constitutional way… and no court can even figure out whether we’ve got the wrong guy.”

These camps, supposedly, will not be like the ones used to detain Japanese-Americans during World War II. They look a good deal like them, though. There’s one right up the road at Camp McCoy in Wisconsin, all ready to go.

Turley thinks “the proposed camp plan should trigger immediate congressional hearings and reconsideration of Ashcroft’s fitness for important office. Whereas al-Qaeda is a threat to the lives of our citizens, Ashcroft has become a clear and present threat to our liberties.”

The Wall Street Journal, which thinks Ashcroft is just a dandy fellow, reported a senior administration official told its reporter that the federal facility at Goose Creek, S.C., where Jose Padilla is being held, has a special wing ready to house some 20 American citizens if Ashcroft decides they’re not loyal to the administration. The paper said there’s space at other military bases for more U.S. “enemy combatants.”

Under the Patriot Act, hardly any pretext is needed to open a criminal investigation of an American citizen. Even as generalized a claim as “intimidating” the government will serve.

Early in August, before the camp plan was announced, The New York Times editorialized: “The Bush administration seems to believe, on no good legal authority, that if it calls citizens combatants in the war on terrorism, it can imprison them indefinitely and deprive them of lawyers. This defiance of the courts repudiates two centuries of constitutional law and undermines the very freedoms that President Bush says he is defending in the struggle against terrorism.”

The Democrats are saying nothing about all of this. They are aiming their fire at corporate corruption. The general public, as well, seems to be unconcerned about these kinds of threats to liberty.

As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said: “The greatest menace to freedom is an inert people.” It is time for Ashcroft to go. Where do you stand?

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