By William Fisher
Since this is the season of nominations – Grammies, Oscars, etc. – it’s time for me to disclose my choice for the winner of “The Most Outrageous Statement of the Year.”
Here’s the statement: George W. Bush has been "most respectful in terms of respecting the civil liberties and rights of individuals while engaged in the important task of fighting for freedom." The president “respects liberty so profoundly that he has protected it and has safeguarded civil liberties more than any other president in wartime that I know of.”
And the maker of that statement? Here’s a hint: He’s something of a singer – “Let The Eagle Soar” is among his favorites. And he’s also something of a prude: The government department he headed spent $8,000 on blue drapes to hide two giant, semi-nude art deco statues, one a female representing the “Spirit of Justice”, with its arms raised and a toga draped over its body, but a single breast exposed; the other a man depicting the “Majesty of Law” with a cloth covering his midsection.
You guessed it: Former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Speaking to hundreds of Missouri Republicans attending the party's statewide Lincoln Days festivities last weekend, the one-time Missouri governor and senator said the president has been using security measures to protect freedoms, not to curb freedom.
"It is stunning to me that when the president of the United States, George W. Bush, simply says that we need to be able to monitor calls being made to terrorist territories, known geographies that are the source of terrorist activities, or known terrorists who are making calls into the United States … that some people see it as an infringement somehow, " Ashcroft said.
But how much credibility does the Bush first-term Attorney General have on the subject of protecting civil liberties and the rule of law?
Isn’t this the same guy who pressured Congress to hurriedly enact the USA Patriot Act, which gave astonishing powers to federal agencies to dramatically increase the government's surveillance, search-and-seizure and wiretapping authority?
Isn’t this the same guy who authorized DOJ officials to monitor the discussions that attorneys have with clients who are in federal custody, including those detained, but not charged with a criminal offense in violation of the First, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the Constitution?
Who rounded up and imprisoned over 1200 men of Middle Eastern descent based largely on pretextual immigration violations and refused to disclose their identity and location and the reason for their detention, while denying them fundamental due process rights? (The roundup produced some deportations, but NO criminal convictions.)
Who sought to question roughly 8,000 men of Middle Eastern descent, who were legal residents of the U.S., a flagrant form of racial profiling?
Who imposed a policy of selectively enforcing deportation orders against men from Middle Eastern countries?
Who helped draft the presidential order that created secret military tribunals to bypass the U.S. court system, contained significant due process violations, and allowed for the imposition of the death penalty?
Who initiated a project called Operation TIPS (Terrorist Information and Prevention System) to recruit and train a million volunteers (including postal workers, utility personnel and the like) in 10 cities who would be encouraged to report suspicious terrorist activity?
Who approved racial profiling guidelines that were little more than rhetorical smoke and mirrors, providing no rights or remedies and included a broad and largely undefined exception when ""national security" concerns came into play?
Who encouraged the 93 US Attorneys to lobby members of Congress who voted for an amendment to prohibit DOJ funds to be used to enforce ""sneak and peak"" warrants?
Who failed to bring any new cases against any police departments for police misconduct or abuse and attempted to change the definition of racial profiling to undermine future litigation?
Who killed a pilot program that provided federal money to pay for DNA testing to exonerate innocent inmates?
Who issued an order that certified federal agents to repeal the licenses of any doctor who prescribed lethal drugs for terminally ill patients?
Who further blurred the line between church and state by conducting daily sessions of prayer and Bible study at the DOJ, while being a major proponent of Bush's faith based initiative and working to create a legal theory that would withstand a constitutional challenge to direct federal funding of religious groups including churches, synagogues and mosques?
And who thumbed his nose at the First Amendment right to dissent by telling Congress that anyone who raised concerns about his actions would ""aid terrorists"" and ""give ammunition to America's enemies"?
In the wake of 9/11, it is understandable that the American people were traumatized and terrified that the next shoe would soon drop – on them. But John Ashcroft and his politically-appointed cronies at the Justice Department blatantly exploited that fear. They pandered to the worst instincts of the American people.
Let us not forget that it was John Ashcroft who hastily convened a taxpayer-financed satellite press conference while on a trip to Moscow to proclaim that the U.S. had arrested a man who planned to use a radiological “dirty bomb” to blow up apartment buildings in the U.S. (a charge that was nowhere to be found when American citizen Jose Padilla was finally put on trial after three years of virtually incommunicado imprisonment.)
And, speaking of cronies, let us note that Mr. Ashcroft’s loyalty to the president is not without its upside. Recently, the U.S. Attorney for the New Jersey, Christopher Christie, selected Ashcroft, his former boss, as one of four attorneys hired in a no-bid process to monitor five medical device manufacturers companies that New Jersey prosecutors had investigated for funneling kickbacks to orthopedic surgeons.
Ashcroft's contract will bring his legal and consulting firm between $27 million and $52 million for monitoring compliance at Indiana-based Zimmer Holdings, Inc.
So The Eagle will soar – all the way to the bank.