Statement of Anthony D. Romero,
ACLU Executive Director
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON -- The Attorney General is the nation's official guardian of civil liberties but during his tenure, Attorney General John Ashcroft has been one of the most divisive forces in the entire Bush Administration. Mr. Ashcroft's legacy has been an open hostility to protecting civil liberties and an outright disdain for those who dare to question his policies. We need to do more than just replace John Ashcroft; we need a wholesale reexamination of Justice Department policies that trample on civil liberties and human rights.
In his pursuit of a radical agenda, Mr. Ashcroft has insisted that the U.S. government could unilaterally detain American citizens without charge and access to counsel. He has also trampled on the rights of immigrants and, in the face of a scathing report from his own inspector general, Mr. Ashcroft merely uttered triumphal statements that showed no remorse. Before Congress, Ashcroft resisted efforts to scrutinize the manner in which Patriot Act powers were being used or possibly abused. And he showed outright hostility to the democratic process when he told the Senate Judiciary Committee that critics of the Bush Administration would merely "aid the terrorists."
President Bush has said he hopes to unify the nation. Nothing could serve that purpose more than appointing a new Attorney General who is committed to protecting the very freedoms that make our country unique as we continue to work to make ourselves safer. We need an Attorney General who recognizes that security and liberty are not mutually exclusive and who recognizes that we can -- and must -- be both safe and free.
Ashcroft has been a polarizing force within the Republican Party. In fact, former House Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey once called Ashcroft "out of control." With key parts of the Patriot Act set to expire next year, the next Attorney General must be willing to listen to the millions of Americans who live in communities that have passed resolutions asking that the Patriot Act be brought back in line with the Constitution. Proper checks and balances against government abuse must be restored. The American people deserve no less.
The Administration has long known that John Ashcroft's unpopularity would make it harder to pursue its agenda -- but it is not enough to simply change the public face of the Department of Justice. Putting a fresh face on the Administration's old policy of violating civil liberties and human rights in the name of national security is not sufficient. The President must appoint an Attorney General who understands and respects the basic rights of our democracy.