The other day, I conducted a continuing legal education seminar for attorneys in Virginia. The group consisted of a varied lot of practitioners_patent attorneys, corporate lawyers, and government attorneys. Among the government attorney was an employee of the Justice Department and a Capital Hill staffer. We got into a lively debate about one of my favorite topics, the Patriot Act and the "war" on terror.
The Justice Department attorney would not entertain any other notion except that the Patriot Act was not only necessary, but was actually "no big deal." The feds had done similarly before (like in the days of J. Edgar Hoover), only this time they had a law to back them up. To those who thought it should be curtailed, she had the same words Ashcroft has for the unaccepting public_I guess you want us all killed, or something to that effect.
The Hill staffer spoke eloquently. To the question from Ms. DOJ about "What would you have us do to fight terrorism?" she replied, in effect, "I would have you do what democracies do. They balance individual rights with national security interests. You don’t violate the constitution because you think the threat is huge. There is no perfect security_and cannot be in a democracy."
This attorney went on to lay the blame of the Patriot Act on a Congress (with whom she is employed, on the Senate side) who did not engage in thoughtful debate and who reacted to a crisis with an overreaching, hastily drawn statute. She said that in all likelihood there would be some changes made to the law. That upset the DOJ attorney greatly. She believed, like Ashcroft, that the Patriot Act did not go far enough and Ashcroft and his troops needed yet more powers.
To the fact that many of innocent people are detained behind bars or kept off airplanes (or slowed down at security) because their names are on some list or another, she had not much sympathy. To the hill staffer’s plea that Ashcroft & Co. should care that their heavy-handed tactics led to people with minor visa violations being deported, she had no concern. Simply, the only thing she cared about was Ashcroft and his law. It must stand, it must be enforced. And it must be reinforced with more powers and laws.
I wonder if she was taking names of attendees who did not share her views. As she left, she laughingly said, "What’s your name again?" Ha, ha, ha. Of course she knew my name. It was meant to be a joke. I did not think it was funny.
John Ashcroft is taking names. He has a list of Congressmen who want to cut off funding for a provision of the Patriot Act that allows warrantless "sneaks and peaks" into people’s records and effects. And he has given that list to no other than his 93 prosecutors_the U.S. Attorneys whose duty it is to prosecute the laws of the United States.
So now U.S. Attorneys are taking names. Ashcroft has ordered them to pay visits to those errant members. And to report back to him.
Report what? The questions they ask? Are they going to bring treason charges against the wary and dissenting? Then, too, the prosecutors are being told to "organize town meetings" and meet with citizens like us. The intent of these visits and meetings are unclear. But one thing is certain–federal prosecutors live and breathe but for one purpose–to prosecute us all for something. It is a suspicious motive Ashcroft has cooked <up.It> is Ashcroft’s own "sneak and peak" into our thoughts and comments. Whoever is fool enough to talk with one of these foot soldiers better have a lawyer in the wings who will risk being branded a terrorist in order to try and save the unbelievers from Ashcroft’s hellfire and brimstone.
"Onward, Ashcroft soldiers. Marching as to war." Ashcroft’s war on civil liberties has a new front. The halls of Congress. Your neighborhood and mine. You and me. We should all be wary.
ELAINE CASSEL practices law in Virginia and the District of Columbia, teachers law and psychology, and follows the Bush regime’s dismantling of the Constitution at Civil Liberties Watch. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org