“Mr. Ashcroft’s legacy has been an open hostility to protecting civil liberties and an outright disdain for those who dare to question his policies. We need to do more than just replace John Ashcroft; we need a wholesale re-examination of Justice Department policies that trample on civil liberties and human rights.”
–Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
“The underlying cause of crime in America is criminals.”
Now that John Ashcroft is packing it in and heading back to Missouri, will the drapes being coming off the bare-breasted statuary in the halls of Justice? Perhaps, they could be converted into sackcloth for the many Muslims he callously tossed in jail with no legal recourse. Or maybe they could be sewn into blinders for the next staff at the DOJ? With Bush at the tiller, it’s doubtful that the next team (Gulliani?) will veer too far from the course set by the current Attorney General.
Ashcroft’s tenure at Justice ended with a fizzle. After fashioning the 350 pages of the notorious Patriot Act (which effectively eviscerates the 4th amendment), the Missouri Mullah devoted himself to the various chores of harassing terminally ill patients protected under Oregon state law (trying to end their lives in dignity), disrupting the sale of medical marijuana to cancer patients, and ferreting through the medical records of women who had legal abortions. No effort was ever spared to ensure that his narrow view of personal morality was rigorously applied like a tourniquet.
But these are just minor details in the broader Ashcroft legacy. The real meat-and-potatoes of his four year tenure was his Clansman-like zeal in rounding-up and persecuting innocent Muslims; 5000, give or take a few. It was a task for which the autocratic General was particularly well suited. As proficient as Ashcroft was in detaining terror suspects on any imaginable pretext (his favorites were “material witness”, immigration violations or, the favorite, no charges at all) he was much less adept at getting convictions. As law professor David Cole points out, of the 5000 suspects Ashcroft arrested “NOT ONE HAS BEEN SUCCESSFULLY CONVICTED OF TERRORISM…the only conviction obtained having been thrown out by a federal judge in Detroit.” The rest were settled through plea agreements; deals that were struck through coercion and threats of being sent to Guantanamo if defendants refused to cooperate. The presumption of innocence was as breezily discarded as was most of the Bill of Rights. The result is an unblemished record of failure that will be filed in the national archive as the biggest flop in American history.
It’s hard to know what to make of Ashcroft, other than the fact that he’s an intellectually-inoperative, religious sociopath who thinks that God entrusted him with “His terrible swift sword” to dispatch the infidels. His religious convictions never included defending the “meek” or “the poor in heart”. They may be swept upwards to the kingdom of heaven, but they could always count on “short-shrift” from the A.G. As the Seattle PI reports: “Like Bush, Ashcroft stuck to conservative positions on a wide range of issues. He sought to limit judges’ flexibility to reduce criminal sentences, to have the federal death penalty applied more uniformly nationwide and targeted Internet pornography for high-profile crackdowns.” In other words, punishment was the Ashcroft panacea for all ailments.
Suspects could always count on a “touch of the lash” whether guilty or not. There was no “sparing the rod” in the Ashcroft regime. Under his leadership the concept of justice was put through the juicer and replaced with his favorite substitute; incarceration. As a result, respect for the office has withered considerably. Ashcroft’s contempt of legal precedent may impress his friends at the Federalist Society, but it’s done little to elevate his standing with the American public.
Ashcroft’s career has not been without its low points. Who can forget his spectral appearance in front of Congress following 9-11 when he said, “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.”
His bleak demagoguery mixed with his bizarre habits, of early morning prayer meetings and religious “sing-a-longs”, put Ashcroft in a category well outside the mainstream. He became a political liability for the image conscious administration and, ultimately, had to be dumped. Fanaticism is revered at the Bush White House, but only if it is concealed behind a businesslike demeanor. Ashcroft had to go.
Will anyone remember how Ashcroft stonewalled the Congress in their investigation of 9-11 (he still hasn’t provided the documents they required) or stubbornly refused to produce the memos that authorized the abuse at Abu Ghraib? Apparently, his astute sense of morality doesn’t involve illuminating the details of the deaths of 3000 Americans or of assisting the victims of torture. His political attachments far transcend his commitment to common decency.
And, what have the affects of John Ashcroft been on the institution of Attorney General? Do people really believe in American justice anymore? It’s hard to know. The DOJ has run roughshod over most of the principles that are fundamental to our system. The behavior of the A.G. has been so erratic that no one can be entirely certain whether they,re even entitled to an attorney anymore. It’s been an astonishing turnaround.
The DOJ spends half its time enforcing the American version of Sharia Law, and the other half sharpening its talons for political enemies. There’s little time for justice in the classic sense of the word. We,d be better off boarding up the Justice Dept and slapping up a few more “high security” prisons in its place. That seems to be the idea anyway.
In any event, the only ones who will be missing Ashcroft will be Al Qaida. His blundering incompetence made sure that not one terrorist was ever successfully locked up. As for the rest of us its, “Ciao, John, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”
MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He can be reached at: [email protected]