Ashcroft in Conference

'Let's Not Let Them Get Johnnie Cochran on the Phone'

In view of the considerable number of reports from families of detainees who were able to get lawyers (many were not) and from the lawyers themselves, there was indeed a deliberate, pervasive blocking of detainees' right to phone lawyers. And those orders, as Brill's book reveals, came from the top. At the very top, next to Ashcroft, was Michael Chertoff.

From page 148 of After: "Chertoff reasoned that while they were being held they would be discouraged from calling lawyers, and could be questioned without lawyers present because they were not being charged with any crime."

All these imprisoned were presumed guilty until proved innocent, as if they were in Zimbabwe, China, or Cuba.

Months later, at the House Judiciary Committee hearing at which John Ashcroft testitifed, the ranking minority member, John Conyers of Michigan, accused him and the Bush administration of assuming the "role of legislator, prosecutor, judge, and jury."

The attorney general claimed, in his testimony, that the president does have the power to arrest citizens on any American street, designate them "enemy combatants," and imprison them indefinitely, without access to lawyers or their families.

After all, Ashcroft said, "The last time I looked at September 11th, an American street was a war zone." So, all of us, not just aliens in America, can become the disappeared.

The Justice Department still will not name the "detainees" in the previous roundup. It's necessary, said Ashcroft, "to protect their privacy."

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