Ashcroft’s greatest — uh, let’s go with “highest profile” — accomplishment to date was the rolling back of individual rights by several decades, under the guise of fighting terrorism.
The provisions of the PATRIOT Act taken as a whole are enough to make civil libertarians scream; the average citizen can usually find at least one provision worthy of alarm. Sponsored by the Bush administration, the PATRIOT act gave sweeping new powers to Ashcroft and his department, including:
- The right to freely monitor the activities political and religious groups without a criminal pretext.
- New restrictions on open hearings and the public’s right to receive information through the Freedom of Information Act.
- The ability to stamp down on the dangerous menace of librarians who tip off the media to federal subpoenas of borrowing records.
- Permission to monitor conversations between lawyers and suspects, on those increasingly rare occasions that suspects are allowed to have lawyers.
- The ability to detain Americans in prison indefinitely without trial or criminal charge.
Not satisfied with the most sweeping police powers ever granted to an Attorney General, Ashcroft set his flunkies to work drafting “PATRIOT II,” also known as the “Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003,” a vast expansion of the vast expansion of his powers. The Justice Department’s wish list for PATRIOT II would enhance domestic security by:
- Dramatically loosening restrictions on secret government surveillance of citizens, including on phones, e-mail and bank accounts.
- Adding a “deport at will” option allowing the Justice Department to circumvent inconvenient immigration laws.
- Expanding terrorism investigations to allow the Department to revoke the rights of anyone within about six degrees of separation of an actual terrorist act.
- Criminalizing the use of encrypted e-mail.
- Increasing the list of federal death-penalty crimes.
- Allowing the government to desecrate the graves of deceased victims of terrorism without permission from families.
- Restricting access to information about corporate pollution and environmental crimes. This would, incidentally, not only prevent private citizens from researching toxins in their backyards but would even restrict the ability of local governments to get information about environmental crimes in their own neighborhoods.
With all these powers, you would think that Ashcroft would have a long list of convictions to brag about, but no such luck. Americans have yet to see a single conviction in a U.S. court for any crime directly related to the Sept. 11 attack. They nailed one guy for selling false ID’s to the hijackers, but he pleaded guilty. Crazy shoe bomber Richard Reid pleaded guilty.