Ashcroft slammed at door of justice

WASHINGTON – Civil liberties, civil rights, labor, women’s equality and environmental groups were set to rally outside the U.S. Department of Justice Sept. 13 to protest the sweeping attacks on the Bill of Rights imposed by Attorney General John Ashcroft behind “closed doors.”

The protesters plan to pin a declaration of the “rights of the people” on the door of the Justice Department, assailing the roundup and secret detention of 1,200 Arabs and Muslims, secret military tribunals and the USA Patriot Act, which allows black-bag break-ins of people’s homes, as well as recruiting of mailmen and meter readers as neighborhood spies in the Bush-Cheney “war on terrorism.”

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, the initiator of the protest, decried the Bush administration’s use of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack as a cover for political repression. In a column headlined, “Leadership in a Time of Trouble,” Jackson wrote, “One year later, we see how September 11 has changed us. We have gone from hope to fear. Millions of us pray on Sept. 11, even as others will be planning for a new war – a preemptive war on Iraq, that is driven not by a new attack on the U.S. but by our new sense of vulnerability. … We will have our voices heard on Sept. 13 in Washington, D.C., and we will have all our votes counted on Nov. 5.”

Sponsors of the rally include the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, AFL-CIO, NAACP, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), League of United Latin American Citizens, Service Employees International Union, Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees, The Sierra Club, the Arab American Insitute, the National Organization for Women, the Washington Peace Center and many others.

ACLU Executive Director Antony D. Romero writes that the Sept. 11 attacks “fundamentally changed America,” opening the door for ultra-right attacks on the Bill of Rights. “Principles enshrined in the Constitution are the bedrock of our country,” he continued. “Defending them in a time of national crisis is more than an act of patriotism, it is a moral imperative.”

Romero cited the so-called “TIPS” program to recruit people to “spy on their neighbors” and the mass incarceration of hundreds of innocent people, as well as enactment of the Patriot Act. Especially menacing, he said, is Ashcroft’s frontal assault on the principle of “judicial review” and the separation of powers.

But Romero also greeted signs that the tide is turning. He hailed the unanimous decision, Aug. 26, of a federal appeals court in Ohio that struck down the Bush administration’s policy of conducting secret deportation hearings. Judge Damon Keith wrote in that decision, “Democracies die behind closed doors.”

Earlier that same week, the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court rebuked the Bush administration’s response to the Sept. 11 attack and “exposed Attorney General John Ashcroft’s efforts to use intelligence powers to circumvent the Constitution.”

The one-year anniversary of the Sept 11 attacks has become an occasion for many to speak out against the repressive, anti-democratic thrust of the Bush administration. Nat Hentoff, writing in the Village Voice, calls for the firing of Ashcroft for secretly scheming to prepare “detention camps” for the incarceration of dissidents.

Former President Jimmy Carter, writing in the Sept. 10 Washington Post, charged that the Bush administration is “detaining American citizens as ‘enemy combatants,’ incarcerating them secretly and indefinitely without their being charged with any crime or having the right to legal counsel.”

Carter pointed out that the federal courts have condemned this assault on the rights of the accused “but the Justice Department seems adamant. … These actions are similar to those of abusive regimes that historically have been condemned by American presidents.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights, in the report, “The State of Civil Liberties: One Year Later,” accused the administration of a “deliberate, persistent, and unnecessary erosion of the basic rights that protect every citizen and non-citizen in the United States. A free society demands the rule of law. Without it, democracy is meaningless.”

The author can be reached at greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com