August 20, 2003
by John Fonte
How many American lives has John Ashcroft saved? Plenty. Across our nation, enemy terrorists have been apprehended since 9/11—in Portland, Seattle, Detroit, Chicago, Peoria, Columbus, Buffalo, Baltimore, Alexandria, and elsewhere. Thanks to Mr. Ashcroft and the Bush Justice Department, terrorist cells have been disrupted and prevented from launching attacks (and from killing both Americans and non-Americans who live here), and more than 2,000 illegal aliens from the Middle East have been deported.
Meanwhile, opponents led by the ACLU have instigated a vicious campaign of slander against Bush administration efforts to protect American lives. Reluctant until very recently to challenge President Bush directly on national-security issues, they have primarily targeted Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Thus—not surprisingly—in the minds of the media, the battle over domestic antiterrorism over the past twenty-one months has divided into two camps: the camp of John Ashcroft and the camp of the ACLU. And this summer has seen a major defection from the Ashcroft camp to the ACLU camp.
James Ziglar, who was commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) from August 2001 to November 2002—and a recent and high-ranking Bush-administration political appointee—recently blasted the U.S. Justice Department in a speech before an ACLU convention. Only a short time ago, Ziglar was a chief lieutenant of John Ashcroft. Unlike FBI Director Robert Mueller, however, who also spoke at the convention but defended the Justice Department, Ziglar made it clear to the ACLU that he was on their side in the campaign against Ashcroft—and against the domestic antiterrorist strategy of President Bush.
During his ACLU speech, Ziglar made some of the following statements:
"It seems that the insatiable appetite for more power by those who already have it is always justified by necessity . . ."
"Although the 'niceties' of the law seem sometimes to escape the attention, or are deemed irrelevant by those who have sworn to faithfully execute the laws."
And just who are "those" with "an insatiable appetite for power" and who deem the "niceties" of the law "irrelevant?" Obviously, George W. Bush's Justice Department, headed by John Ashcroft.
Thus, Ziglar told the cheering ACLU members, "Those who occupy positions of authority in each branch must be mindful that protecting and defending—not disrupting and preventing—the vision of our Founders, as embodied in the Constitution, and particularly the Bill of Rights, is the specific and primary duty they swear to uphold." He further declared that if "they fail to fulfill their duty," the people have the "duty to remove and replace them."
The phrase "disrupting and preventing" is a reference to Attorney General Ashcroft's statement that the Justice Department's new emphasis in the war we're in will be to "disrupt and prevent" terrorist acts on our soil. Ziglar chose to deliberately distort Ashcroft's words. Throughout the ACLU speech, he continuously attacked the Justice Department's emphasis on "disruption and prevention"—never mentioning that Ashcroft's focus is on preventing and disrupting terrorism, and instead implying that Justice is somehow "disrupting" our constitutional order.
In a paragraph typical of the speech, Ziglar states: "No Attorney General, whether Democrat or Republican, should be invested with the power, real or imagined, to ignore, bend, or break the rule of law." This is classic innuendo. Ziglar does not directly say that Ashcroft is ignoring, bending, or breaking the rule of law, but his implication is not lost on the ACLU audience. Indeed, just before this assertion, Ziglar had decried the "increasingly aggressive tactics of the Justice Department" and declared that an "attitude" of "how much can they get away with . . . already pervades the Department of Justice."
But Ziglar does not simply slander his former colleagues at the Justice Department (one of them is the brilliant young architect of the Patriot Act, Viet Dinh, an immigrant who knows something about real oppression—he fled Communist Vietnam as a boy). No, Ziglar also heartily embraces his new allies at the ACLU by effusively declaring that he has "nothing but admiration for your unwavering devotion to protecting the Bill of Rights" and reminding us that this is a "time in American history when the need is great for organizations such as the ACLU."
And just what has the ACLU been doing in the War on Terrorism? In one case in Florida, the ACLU defended the right of a Muslim-American woman to be covered from head to toe in a veil (with only her eyes showing) for a driver's license ID photo, rendering the identification—i.e., the purpose of the card—useless. The ACLU argued the case on First Amendment "religious freedom" grounds.
Fortunately, a judge ruled against the ACLU and the Muslim woman—who, incidentally, turned out to be a criminal who had been previously convicted of battery against a three-year-old girl. Still, the fact that ACLU would initiate such as lawsuit in the first place shows that it is a not merely a frivolous organization, but (and much more significantly) a dangerous one, especially at a time when American lives are being threatened by terrorists in our own homeland.
The ACLU's campaign against the Patriot Act is full of half-truths and distortions. For example, the ACLU charges that Section 215 of the Act means that "The FBI could spy on a person because they don't like the books she reads or they don't like the websites she visits."
Heather Mac Donald, in a trenchant article attacking the anti-Ashcroft hysteria in the Summer 2003 City Journal, calls this "nonsense." Mac Donald notes, for instance, that the Justice Department would need court approval before it could be permitted to examine the e-mail surfing in a public library of an Islamic militant who had traveled to Pakistan and was seen with terror suspects in Virginia.
The actions of the ACLU endanger the lives of all Americans. It is disgraceful that a former INS chief in the Bush administration would fawn over and pander to this organization.
This article appeared on National Review Online on August 11, 2003.
John Fonte is a Senior Fellow and Director of Hudson's Center for American Common Culture.
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