HEARTS | "moral leaders"

JOHN ASHCROFT: king of hearts
(CH, L, B, CS) (what do these signs mean?)

The longer John Ashcroft is in power, and the more he talks, the easier it is to understand the motives of Missouri voters who turfed him out of the Senate in favor of a dead man. (His opponent had died during the campaign.)

Giving patriotism a bad name
The first USA PATRIOT Act has caused even such staunch conservatives as Dick Armey and Bob Barr to join the ACLU. These men cannot be accused of sympathy for liberals or being "soft" on US security. So what gives? Well, if you look closely, Ashcroft's arguments for radically enhanced investigative powers by the FBI and other federal agents owe more to avoiding criticism for incompetence than to any real concern for Americans' safety. In the 1970s, federal guidelines limiting domestic spying were passed because of FBI Director (and Right Wing hero) J. Edgar Hoover's abuses of power. Under Hoover's leadership, the FBI engaged in thousands of illegal wiretaps, mail openings and burglaries, blackmailed members of Congress, attacked government critics and tried to drive Martin Luther King Jr. to suicide.


What George W. Bush referred to as tying the hands of the FBI really meant requiring it to act in a lawful and civilized manner. Anyone who has paid close attention knows now that the FBI and federal government already had the information they needed to prevent 9-11, had they been competent enough to use it. Wendy Kaminer writes: according to Ashcroft, "it wasn't the self-protective, short-sighted, inefficient culture of the FBI that contributed to the mishandling of information before September 11, as FBI whistle-blower Coleen Rowley suggested in her May 21, 2002, letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller. It wasn't the management style of former Director Louis Freeh, a Clinton appointee who enjoyed the support of congressional Republicans. And it wasn't Ashcroft's own blindness to the threat of terrorism and his neglect of FBI counterterrorism programs. Instead . . . the bureau was hampered by undue respect for individual rights." Kaminer's sarcasm is appropriate.


A more recent example of lying or incompetence occurred when Ashcroft was asked by Wisconsin Representative Mark Green about the FBI's PATRIOT Act authority to monitor library borrowing records. Ashcroft answered with an anecdote: "Some may remember that the capture of the Unabomber was made possible" because "investigators subpoenaed records from libraries and they developed an awareness of who had looked at these esoteric treatises." But, as Ashcroft was reminded by New York City Representative Jerrold Nadler, the Unabomber was not identified by the FBI, but turned in by his brother. Ashcroft's logic and history were equally worthless.


The PATRIOT Act has still more problems. The FBI can secretly search and seize records, books, papers or other personal belongings of practically anyone, regardless of whether or not they are a citizen. No warrant is needed nor do they need to show probable cause. Reuters reports the FBI "can also impose a lifelong 'gag' order preventing anyone served with Section 215 orders -- aimed for example at getting information about a suspect's medical history, reading habits, political activities or religious affiliation -- from telling someone else about the investigation." Imagine the precedent this sets! Bye Bye freedom of speech.


Back to the bad old days
It didn't take long for the kinds of abuses prevented by the 1970s legislation to begin returning. Among the arrests inspired by vague tips immediately following 9/11, the entire late-night staff of a deli were busted because they were all Middle Eastern immigrants. Ninety percent of the people arrested in the wake of 9/11 have been kept in custody for 90 days or more.

Such abusive conduct by Ashcroft's office and the FBI has been strongly criticized in a 198 page report by the Justice Department's own independent Office of Inspector General. (The only reason this office exists is because some legislators didn't trust Ashcroft to apply the law wisely. They were right.) The report states that Ashcroft should have changed his policies regarding the holding of the detainees without bail once the random nature of the arrests came to light. That would have required Ashcroft'is giving up a little power, and he seems as addicted to power as a junkie is to heroin.

Nor do Ashcroft and his department appear able to police themselves. For example, in one case the Inspector General's office obtained a statement from an officer admitting that he had verbally abused a Muslim inmate and had been "less than completely candid" with internal investigators from the federal Bureau of Prisons. The Inspector General's office said it also obtained a sworn statement from another prison worker confirming the inmates' accusations. When the Bureau of Prisons handled the earlier investigation of the officer, it closed its inquiry and cleared the officer, without anyone even interviewing the inmates or the officer. Corruption? Incompetence? Or both?

In terms of the Justice Departments' integrity, even more disturbing is the Inspector General's report that detainees innocent of any hostility to our country were physically and verbally abused in New York's Metropolitan Correction Center, although their only crime amounted to overstaying their visas. Jail videotapes, which could have condemned the perpetrators of these acts, were destroyed before investigators reached them. Again, corruption? Incompetence? Or both?

The New York Times

When asked about why so many people had been detained for excessive periods of time, the most frequent answer Ashcroft presented before the June 5 House Judiciary Committee Hearing, was-"They were all in the U.S. illegally." This justifies holding them for weeks, denying them access to an attorney, and keeping their names from their family?


Here is a man who apparently lacks the basic capacity to distinguish between serious and minor crimes. His obsessive attacks on states whose citizens approved medical marijuana or death with dignity acts further demonstrates this incapacity.

Ashcroft's lack of even modest common sense was demonstrated again in September, 2003. Ashcroft ordered all federal prosecutors to always go for the stiffest penalty when making a case. Not only did he thereby show no confidence in his own prosecutors' judgment, he also threatens to overwhelm the federal court system with cases since there is no longer any reason for a defendant to plead guilty to reduced charges or penalties instead of facing a jury. Instances of Ashcroft's poor judgment adversely affecting justice and our constitutional freedom could be expanded into a book. We could examine his TIPS program, trying to create a nation of spies checking their neighbors out for suspicious activity. We could explore Ashcroft's urging federal agencies to find reasons to not respond to Freedom of Information Act requests. We could look at his efforts to allow religious groups to proselytize at public schools, where students have to attend.

This should give pause to Americans who would trust men like these with even more power. They have no compunction about tampering with evidence to cover their butts, have demonstrated contempt for the legal votes of American citizens, and evidenced no competence to actually save us from terrorist atrocities.

Ashcroft's hypocrisy
Few men have paraded their piousness around as much as has John Ashcroft. If the Devil quotes scripture, we may well have a good example of Satan at work here. Are our words harsh? Consider the following:

The Alien Tort Claims Act is a law that allows people injured by serious violations of international laws outside the US to seek justice in the courts of the US if the injuring party is based in the US. John Doe I vs. Unocal Corp. is a case where the plaintiffs are "Burmese Villagers who claim that they were subjected to forced labor, murder, rape and torture during the construction of a gas pipeline through their country. Soldiers allegedly committed these abuses while providing security and other services for Unocal's pipeline project."


Unocall, and its French partner Total, are accused of paying the Burmese military regime to employ force to use slave labor and child labor. Joanne Mariner, a Human Rights Watch attorney, cites Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International reports detailing such atrocities. John Ashcroft's minions at the Justice Department are supporting Unacol's appeal after a panel of the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found evidence that Unacol did pay the Burmese regime to continue its atrocious ways.

The Justice Department is not trying to defend Unocal on the basis that the villagers' claims are wrong. No. They are attacking the entire concept that companies such as Unocal can be brought to justice, despite the law's long history in this country. Ashcroft's prefers defending large corporations rather than attacking slavery and forced child labor. This is yet another example of the Bush administrations compassion for corporations and contempt for people who are not well connected. But it is a particularly squalid one for people prattling that they are Christians. On this basis alone the man should be ashamed to hold his head up in decent company.

CNN reports "No previous administration has ever challenged the legitimacy of ATCA suits against gross human rights abusers." Read the CNN report below. If you have a heart you cannot help but be revolted:


Contempt for Americans and for the constitution
Ashcroft's personal contempt for the principle underlying a democracy became even more clear in his recent nationwide tour defending the PATRIOT Act. Average Americans were barred from his speeches, even though our taxes pay his bills. In Boston 1,200 citizens gathered to protest the man's policies while he spoke to 150 privileged law enforcement officials. The only media representatives allowed to question the Attorney General were local TV reporters. They got three minutes each. No other journalists are allowed. The reason is pretty clear. TV is great for sound bites and bad for genuine news coverage. Real coverage might expose the emptiness of the Attorney General's rhetoric and the dishonesty of his reasoning. It couldn't be risked.

Carol Rose wrote in the Boston Globe at the time: "While Ashcroft was telling Boston's police how the government was using its powers under the Patriot Act, he didn't mention a January 2003 report from the General Accounting Office revealing three-quarters of the "international terrorism convictions" for 2002 had been wrongly classified as terrorist crimes. They were, instead, routine immigration violations.

"Nor did he mention a March 2, 2003, Washington Post report that out of 62 cases of "international terrorism" that New Jersey prosecutors claimed to have handled, all but two involved Middle Eastern men who were accused of paying other people to take their English exams and who were not linked to terrorism in any way."

Such is John Ashcroft's integrity.
See the Boston Globe story

The day after Ashcroft's Boston speech, George Bush announced he would ask Congress for three new laws: expanding the federal death penalty, expanding the federal right to use subpoenas without judicial approval, and the right to deny bail to people accused of "terrorism" related crimes.

When thinking about the wisdom, or lack thereof, in Bush's little gift to Ashcroft, we should remember their loose definition of what constitutes "terrorism." Under the PATRIOT Act, a person commits the crime of domestic terrorism if within the U.S. they engage in activity that involves acts dangerous to human life that violate the laws of the United States or any State and appear to be intended: (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.

This definition is frighteningly broad. What constitutes "intimidation"? Are loud demonstrators intimidating? Some would find them so. And what constitutes "dangerous to human life?" Tree sitting could be dangerous to human life. So could sitting down in a road. The ACLU warns that Operation Rescue and the World Trade Organization protesters have engaged in activities that could subject them to prosecution as terrorists.

The ACLU warns that once the government decides that conduct is "'domestic terrorism,' law enforcement agents have the authority to charge anyone who provides assistance to that person, even if the assistance is an act as minor as providing lodging. The government could prosecute the person who provided their home under a new crime of "harboring" a terrorist (Section 803) or for 'providing material support' to 'terrorists.'"


Before 9-11 there were already three definitions of terrorism in federal law - international terrorism, terrorism transcending national borders and federal terrorism. The September 11th attacks broke every one of these laws. A looser definition for terrorism has nothing to do with the crime. Why do Ashcroft and Bush need to broaden the definition? There is no good reason, and the bad reasons are frightening.

UnAmerican "Patriotism"
Ashcroft's secret baby, the draft USA PATRIOT Act II allowed a person to be arrested and held indefinitely, and stripped of his or her US citizenship. Under such circumstances, Americans seized by the government have no right of representation in a court, and the public has no right to any information regarding their legal fate. The only individual with the authority to restore legal rights or citizenship status to such a person is the President of the US. Go to our George Bush link to see if this makes you feel safer.

Citizenship is not something the government bestows upon us unless we are immigrants. We are born citizens, and our citizenship is ours alone. Ashcroft's ideal effectively underminines the spirit embodied by the founding documents of this nation. Good bye Declaration of Independence, John Ashcroft knows better.

Is taking away our citizenship necessary? Virginia Postrel posts a perceptive comment from one of her correspondents:

There was no problem prosecuting, convicting, and executing terrorist U.S. citizen Timothy McVeigh and there is no need to strip citizenship from anybody, except: 1) to hide incompetent police work, or 2) to deport 'em to countries which might torture 'em.

Think about it. What OTHER reason could there be for the Attorney General to seek authority to take citizenship away from somebody who acquired it lawfully (for instance, by being born here) and doesn't want to give it up?



Defeat through "victory"
Although most Americans are aware of the infringement of individual privacy rights by these hastily imposed provisions, very few are aware of the extra-constitutional areas that the draft PATRIOT Act II proposed before it was exposed through a leak, and sent to a well deserved oblivion. That is, oblivion until the powers that be could rename it. Many of its worst provisions have re-emerged as the "Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003." Section 301-306 of the proposal authorizes the creation of a DNA database on "suspected terrorists." The definition of "suspected terrorists" is again expansive enough to include anyone suspected of association with suspected terrorist groups. In the hands of an organization with such little obligation to accountability, there is no telling that such information would not be used for pre-emptive incrimination. Our newspapers are full of stories about overzealous prosecutors bending the evidence to win convictions and fighting against allowing DNA testing of those already convicted.

According to Ashcroft, the government should be able to detain any citizen indefinitely, without access to an attorney, without being charged, without evidence being required and without having to justify its actions in a court of law. When many of us were in grade school, this is what we were taught tyrannies did, and the US was different. These powers would horrify the Founding fathers. Even George III couldn't do it.

Now this is being dressed up as the VICTORY" Act. Already we are hit with "mission creep" as the power hogs at the Dept. of Justice seek to abandon the sunset clause in the original Patriot Act, that would have required Congress to reenact it in 2005. They are also seeking to expand its coverage to the "War on Drugs." Rather than dealing with real terrorism, it targets drug dealing as a "terrorist" threat. Another chunk of our Bill of Rights is to be sacrificed to Ashcroft's love of power.

Under "Patriot II" the people arrested at the all night deli could have simply "disappeared." We would know as much about their fate as Russians did about those who disappeared under the Soviets.

Given that 160 cities and three states have come out opposing the unconstitutional excesses of the "PATRIOT" Act, the chances for this monstrosity to pass are slim. Unless, of course, the incompetence that gave us 9-11 gives us another terrorist atrocity against Americans. In such a case we may be sure that the incompetents who failed to protect us will again complain their hands are tied, and that they need still more power.


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