Thursday, July 01, 2004

John Ashcroft vs. Thomas Jefferson
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights,...

Two hundred twenty eight years ago tomorrow, the Third Continental Congress voted to approve a declaration written by Thomas Jefferson that began with the above words. The vote was not without argument. John Adams was sure it should read "unalienable rights." But in the end, they agreed on a draft and sent the Declaration of Independence out to have a clean copy prepared for signing on the fourth. Most of us think the Declaration was a good thing because we do hold those truths to be self-evident. The chief law enforcement officer in the United States, John Ashcroft, is not among us. He also seems to have some reservations about John Madison's documents from eleven years later, the Constitution and Bill of Rights of the United States.

Am I being a self-righteous poop to put it that way? Perhaps, but I think it's better mannered to credit Ascroft with honest philosophical opposition to the founding principles of the republic, than to call him an opportunistic and vindictive hypocrite, destroyer of freedoms, and key member of an illegitimate ruling junta hell-bent on subverting our system individual rights and governmental checks and balances.
MIAMI -- U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said Wednesday that the U.S. Supreme Court gave more rights to terrorists in three recent decisions, and Justice Department attorneys are poring over the rulings to determine their consequences.

The orders issued Monday on Guantanamo detainees and enemy combatants Jose Padilla and Yaser Hamdi indicate, "that certain terrorists have more rights," Ashcroft said after a meeting with a regional anti-terrorism advisory council.

"The Supreme Court accorded to terrorists, in a variety of cases this week, a number of additional rights," he said. "We're digesting those opinions in terms of making sure that we adjust or modify what we do, so that we accommodate the requirements as expressed by the Supreme Court."

Ascroft's language betrays his contempt for our judicial norms. The detainees are all "terrorists," despite the fact that none of them have been charged with anything, that none have been convicted of anything, and that a quarter of the original number were released after investigations determined that they were not a threat to us. Ashcroft has no use for the presumption of innocence or the the need to prove guilt in public proceedings. His boss says they're guilty and that should be good enough for all of us.

He also chooses to use the code language of intolerance and cultural divisiveness. To allow judicial norms to apply to the detainees--even the American citizens--is to give them "more rights" or "additional rights." How close is this to the "special rights" argument used in denying normal civil rights protections for anyone who is not a white Protestant male?

Ashcroft does not hold that civil rights are a truth that is self-evident; he holds that they are a privilege that the president can withdraw at will and without question.

The choice is yours, you call him a principled oligarch or a mad-dog enemy of all that is good and right in America. I know my choice. The name really doesn't matter, the point is he should not have the position of power he does, and neither should the people who put him there.

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