Ugly John Ashcroft

Billmon is the smartest liberal blogger, right alongside Josh Marshall, and by far the best writer. I just read his brilliant post about John Ashcroft’s testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and I asked myself, Are the American people aware of what’s going on here? Do they have any idea just how unaccountable the present administration is, how anything they decide to do can be justified under the mantra “We’re at war”?

I kept getting angrier and angrier as I read it. It was at this point that I finally stopped reading and called Kerry’s office in Arizona to volunteer:

The very worst bit, though, the one that really drove home the potential consequences of our brave new legal world, was Ashcroft’s response to Russ Feingold’s question about the Brandon Mayfield case. Mayfield, you may recall, is the Oregon attorney who was arrested by the FBI on suspicion of involvement in the Madrid bombing – only to be (grudgingly) released when the Spanish police rejected the bureau’s fingerprint match.

To be sure, Ashcroft apologized profusely for the error. But Feingold’s question went right to the heart of why apologies are not an adequate substitute for due process:

FEINGOLD: “But for the fact that he had access to counsel and judicial review, Mr. Mayfield might still be in jail today. Held as an enemy combatant, Mr. Mayfield would be in a military jail without the right to an attorney. And his truthful statements of innocence would be taken simply as failure of his interrogators.”

The AG’s answer, roughly:

ASHCROFT: (crickets chirping)

He didn’t even bother to respond to the point. How could he?

In the end, the AG’s arguments really all came down to a single point – that is, unless “we’re in power and you’re not” is also a point. America is at war, he repeatedly intoned, to a chorus of GOP amens. And in war time what the president says goes – at least as far as the legislative branch is concerned.

We’ve simply never seen anything like it. And it’s tolerated. We should all be shouting with rage. Ashcroft even reserves for himself the right to classify documents retroactively — after they have been made public, if it is in “the nation’s interest,” which always means if it will help prevent embarrassing the government. Read Billmon’s post; it’s all there. Just be prepared to feel very angry.

Ashcroft prays; it won’t do him any good

UPDATE: I just came across Patrick Leahy’s remarks to Ashcroft at today’s hearing, and am citing the entire thing here for the record. How refreshing, to see Ashcroft exposed as the miserable failure he is. Magnificent.

Mr. Attorney General, welcome. It’s been, I believe, about 15 months to pass since your last very brief appearance in March last year. Your testimony here comes today about 1,000 days after the September 11th attacks, and the subsequent launch of your efforts against terrorism.

As National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice acknowledged in her testimony before the 9/11 commission, the terrorist threat to our nation did not begin in September 2001. But the preliminary findings of the 9/11 commission suggest that counterterrorism simply was not a priority of your Justice Department prior to September 11th.

Problems ranged in your department from an understaffed foreign translation program, woefully inadequate information systems, cultural attitudes that frustrated information sharing across agencies. Just one day before the attacks, on September 10th, you rejected the FBIs request to include more money for counterterrorism in your budget proposal.

And while you have recently been critical of the so-called wall between criminal investigators and intelligence agencies, you did nothing to lower it during your first seven full months in office.

In fact, you put up exactly the same wall in your administration.

The president is fond of saying that September 11th changed everything, as if to wipe out all missteps and misplaced priorities of the first year of this administration. After the attacks, you promised a stunned nation that its government would expend every effort and devote all necessary resources to bring the people responsible for these crimes to justice. Certainly the American people would expect no less.

So a thousand days later and it is time to ask for the fulfillment of the promise you made.

Mr. Attorney General, your statement lists accomplishments of the Department of Justice since 9/11, but you leave out a number of things.

For example, of course the obvious, Osama bin Laden remains at large.

At least three senior Al Qaida operatives who helped plan the 9/11 attacks are in U.S. custody, but there has been no attempt to bring them to justice.

The Moussaoui prosecution has bogged down before any trial.

A German court acquitted two 9/11 co-conspirators, in part because the U.S. government and Justice Department and others refused to provide evidence to them.

Three defendants who you said had knowledge of the 9/11 attacks did not have such knowledge. The department retracted your statement and then you had to apologize to the court because you violated a gag order in the case.

The man you claimed was about to explode a dirty bomb in the U.S. had no such intention or capability, and because he’s been held for two years without access to counsel, any crimes he did commit might never be prosecuted.

Terrorist attacks on Capitol Hill and elsewhere involving the deadly bioterror agent anthrax have yet to be solved, and the department is defending itself in a civil rights action brought by a man who you probably identified as a person of interest in the anthrax investigation.

U.S. citizens with no connection to terrorism have been in prison as material witnesses for chunks of time, and then, “Oops, I’m sorry,” when what the Justice Department announced was a 100 percent positive fingerprint match turned out to be 100 percent wrong.

Non-citizens with no connection to terrorism have been rounded up seemingly on the basis of their religion or ethnicity, held for months without charges, and in some cases physically abused.

Interrogation techniques approved by the Department of Justice have led to abuses that have tarnished our nation’s reputation and driven hundreds, if not thousands, of new recruits to our enemies to terrorism.

Your department turned a Canadian citizen over to Syria to be tortured. And then your department deported another individual to Syria over the objection of experienced prosecutors and agents who thought he was a terrorist and wanted to prosecute him.

And one of the most amazing things, your department, under your direction, has worked to deny compensation to American victims of terrorism, including former POWs tortured by Saddam Hussein’s regime. You have tried to stop former POWs tortured by Saddam Hussein — Americans — you tried to stop them from getting compensation.

And documents have been classified, unclassified, reclassified, to score political points rather than for legitimate national security reasons.

Statistics have been manipulated to exaggerate the department’s success in fighting terrorism. The threat of another attack on U.S. soil remains high, although how high depends primarily on who within the administration is talking.

Mr. Attorney General, you spent much of the past two years increasing secrecy, lessening accountability and touting the government’s intelligence-gathering powers.

The threshold issue, of course, is — and I believe you would agree with me on this — what good is having intelligence if we can’t use it intelligently. Identifying suspected terrorist is only a first step. To be safer we have to follow through.

Instead of declining tough prosecutions, we need to bring the people who are seeking to harm us to justice. That’s how our system works. Instead, your practices seem to be built on secret detentions and overblown press releases.

Our country is made no safer through the self-congratulatory press conferences when we’re facing serious security threats.

The government agency that bears the name of justice has yet to deliver the justice for the victims of the worst mass murder in this nation’s history.

The 9/11 commission is working hard to answer important questions about the attacks and how the vulnerabilities in our system that allowed them to occur, but it can’t mete out justice to those involved. Neither the 9/11 commission nor this committee can do the work of your Department of Justice.

Mr. Attorney General, since September 11th, you blamed former administration officials for intelligence failures that happened on your watch. You’ve used a tar brush to attack the patriotism of the Americans who dared to express legitimate concerns about constitutional freedoms. You refused to acknowledge serious problems, even after the Justice Department’s own inspector general exposed widespread violations of the civil liberties of immigrants caught up in your post-September 11th dragnets.

Secretary Rumsfeld recently went before the Armed Services Committee to say that he, he Secretary Rumsfeld, should be held responsible for the abuses of Iraqi prisoners on his watch.

Director Tenet is resigning from the Central Intelligence Agency. Richard Clark went before the 9/11 commission and began with his admission of the failure that this administration bears for the tragedy that consumed us on 9/11.

And I’m reminded this week, as we mourn the passing of President Reagan, that one of the acts for which he will be remembered is that he conceded, that while his heart told him that the weapons for hostages and unlawful funding of insurgent forces in Nicaragua should not have been acts of his administration, his head convinced him that they were, and he took personal responsibility.

We need checks and balances. As much as gone wrong that you stubbornly refuse to admit. For this democratic republic to work, we need openness and accountability.

Now, Mr. Attorney General, your style is often to come to attack. You came before this committee shortly after 9/11 to question our patriotism when we sought to conduct a congressional oversight and ask questions.

You went before the 9/11 commission to attack a commissioner by brandishing a conveniently declassified memo and so unfairly slanted a presentation that President Bush himself disavowed your actions.

So I challenge you today to abandon any such plans for the session. Begin it instead by doing that which you have yet to do: talk plainly with us and with the American people, about not only what’s going right in the war on terrorism — and there are those things that are going right — but also about the growing list of things that are going wrong, so we can work together to fix them.

Let’s get about the business of working together to do our job, a better job of protecting the American people and making sure that the wrongdoers are brought to justice, are brought to trial and are given the justice that this country can mete out.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Definitely time for regime change.

The Discussion: 12 Comments

Curious, was there applause after that? I wish.

June 9, 2004 @ 5:55 pm | Comment

From me there sure was. Quite an indictment.

June 9, 2004 @ 6:55 pm | Comment


That’s the Real Player URL from CSPAN. Leahy’s comments are second, right after the opening comments from the Committee Chair Orrin Hatch, who plays up the Republican talking points that were passed in a memo to Leahy.

Beware though, Ashcroft has one of those hypno ties on, like Bush did during his last Press Conference.

June 9, 2004 @ 8:28 pm | Comment

Did you really volunteer for Kerry? If so, good. The world needs those @#$#%%^@ out of office. Being a Kiwi in China I can’t do anything about it myself.

June 9, 2004 @ 9:17 pm | Comment

I really did volunteer. I will be posting about it, probably next week.

June 9, 2004 @ 10:17 pm | Comment

Good on ya. You get my moral support, because that and the insane ranting on my blog are the only things I can do to help.

June 9, 2004 @ 10:32 pm | Comment

Good to hear, and in a swing state, no less! Being a North Carolina voter in Beijing, my most effective activism so far has been my patient conversations with an Ohio Republican who’s really torn about who to vote for.

The fact that she’s extraordinarily pretty has nothing to do with that activism, I promise.

June 10, 2004 @ 1:47 am | Comment

Hey Dan,

I’m a north carolina voter, too.

And I’m also a kleptomaniac.

June 10, 2004 @ 7:14 am | Comment

You’re right on this one. Ashcroft is a strange, incompetent man, with a very wierd agenda considering that his job is protecting us.

Who’s his likely replacement under a Democrat?


June 10, 2004 @ 7:44 am | Comment

Chris, I like insane rants — I just blogrolled you.

Dan, friends don’t let friends vote Republican — please do something about your girlfriend.

Sam, we have had plenty of decent AGs in the past; Ashcroft stands out as a true aberration, a throwback to some uglier time. A lot of Republicans may hate Janet Reno, but she was surely no John Ashcroft. Griffin Bell under Carter was just fine. There are plenty of choices — Ashcroft is absolutely extreme, which is why he was far and away the most controversial cabinet choice. He is a pentecostal whose mission is ending abortion and pornography (both of which are legal, no matter what you think of them) and imposing a right-wing Christian morality upon us all.

June 10, 2004 @ 9:47 am | Comment

Congratulations on getting involved with the Kerry campaign. Now perhaps in future posts we’ll hear something positive about Kerry and why we should vote for him.

It disturbs me that so many people support Kerry only because they don’t like Bush. This isn’t good. I’d rather not vote negatively.

June 10, 2004 @ 11:06 am | Comment

Thanks, although I’m not sure I deserve the complement.

June 10, 2004 @ 10:54 pm | Comment

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