Kiss Your Rights Goodbye

From John Ashcroft's lips to God's ear

I mention Jesus Christ only because John Ashcroft frequently likens himself to the simple carpenter from Nazareth who died for our sins. In his autobiography, Ashcroft reveals a messianic complex seldom found outside a locked ward, characterizing each of his career disappointments as "crucifixions." On rare occasions when things go well, his father, an Assembly of God cultist, or someone equally demented is always on hand to smear a little Crisco on his forehead, as was done for the prophets in biblical times.

Ashcroft inhabits the same mental universe as Osama bin Laden, which isn't as useful to a "war on terror" as it sounds. Like bin Laden, Ashcroft considers his job to be smiting the infidel, prosecuting Muslims and Arabs on an ethnic-religious basis. Many Homelanders conflate Muslims with terrorists, so Ashcroft has been able to do the same, forearmed by Jesus for the clash of civilizations. Alas, unlike bin Laden, Ashcroft really doesn't know much about our civilization, much less anyone else's.

The Justice Department would have it that numerous "sleeper cells" have been ambushed since 9-11. Fat chance. Plea bargaining, a judicial travesty designed to relieve our court system of its onerous duty to give defendants jury trials, and mandatory sentencing, which voids the discretion of judges to tailor sentences appropriate for individual defendants, have placed the fate of anyone charged with a crime in the total control of prosecutors.

The attorney general runs the Department of Justice like a Pentecostal revival meeting.
The attorney general runs the Department of Justice like a Pentecostal revival meeting.

In the terrorism cases to date, people from targeted ethnic groups have been fingered, for whatever reasons, by informants; locked up without benefit of counsel; and threatened with life imprisonment or execution (typical mandatory sentences for "terror" crimes). Predictably, these casualties of the Patriot Act tend to confess to lesser crimes the prosecutor offers from a standard menu of transgressions. The so-called Lackawanna Six, U.S. citizens of Yemeni origin, pleaded out on "providing material support to terrorists" when menaced with capital charges.

Eleven alleged terrorists in Alexandria, Virginia, charged with what amounts to "association" with Al Qaeda, pleaded out on violations of the Neutrality Act.

Seven members of a "terrorist cell" in Portland, Oregon, likewise charged with multiple crimes, pleaded out on lesser, tossed-in charges of gun possession.

A hearing on probable cause in most of the above cases might have concluded that the defendants' rights had been violated. It's more likely that these people are innocent than guilty, considering how many episodes of mass hysteria have translated into show trials—or, in these cases, no trials—throughout American history.

In every case "linked" to 9-11, Muslims, mostly American citizens, have been confronted with the same dilemma anyone "overcharged" with felony counts faces: Take your chances with an overworked, underpaid public defender or plead out for lesser jail time, even if you're innocent. In the rare cases in which a defendant's lawyer has managed to compel production of the state's "secret evidence," it proved so flimsy that charges were drastically lowered by the courts or simply thrown out.

The Moussaoui case illustrates how the terror war has played out in the U.S. Initially indicted on six conspiracy counts, any one of which could lead to life imprisonment or execution, Moussaoui insisted on questioning three "enemy combatants" in detention who he said would testify to his non-involvement in 9-11.

The judge ordered Moussaoui's access to the detainees; rather than produce them, the Justice Department claimed that they could reveal "classified information." The prosecutors moved for a dismissal, in hopes that an appellate court would void the judge's order and call for a new trial.

Under the weird procedures Ashcroft has devised from a breathtakingly cynical reading of international law and U.S. statutes, the government can switch Moussaoui's status to that of "enemy alien" and try him before a military tribunal. This isn't just overcharging, it's railroading.

Only 3 percent of felony defendants in the U.S. ever receive a jury trial. For "terror" suspects, just being called a terrorist by the Justice Department is enough to get you shipped to a dog pound on Diego Garcia without being charged. This is likely to entail being sleep-deprived, tortured, and raped by some smirking hillbilly like Lynndie England, courtesy of Donald Rumsfeld.

Three years after the fact, there has been no satisfactory explanation for what happened on 9-11, although it's clear from many credible accounts that the House of Saud was paying protection money to bin Laden, and several Sauds who died under fishy circumstances afterward knew in advance that an American target was going to be hit. The Bush family's complex business dealings with the Saudis, including some of bin Laden's siblings, have clouded every inquiry into the 9-11 plot.

What should have been a disaster for G.W. Bush's presidency, then, has instead served as a pretext for conducting it like a dictatorship, with John Ashcroft's Justice Department as its secret police. Strange to say, the branch of the government that got the country into this mess is the only one that can get us out. The Supreme Court's rulings in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, Rasul v. Bush, and Rumsfeld v. Padilla, affirming habeas corpus rights for detainees as well as criminal defendants, while not unequivocal triumphs for Hamdi, Rasul, or Padilla per se, at least indicate a dawning recognition within the Supreme Court that its own prerogatives are liable to be usurped by an executive branch that defines "war" against a phantom enemy as an eternal state of emergency. If we can't rely on the court for fairness, the republic may yet be rescued by its resentment.

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