Sunday, May 20, 2007

John Ashcroft, Civil Libertarian

Who would have thought former Attorney General John Ashcroft—the guy who ordered $8,000 drapes to cover the bare-breasted "Spirit of Justice" sculpture in a hall of the Justice Department—was a civil libertarian? Compared to his former colleagues, he looks like a card-carrying member of the ACLU. The Post reports:

In addition to rejecting to the most expansive version of the warrantless eavesdropping program, the [former] officials said, Ashcroft also opposed holding detainees indefinitely at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, without some form of due process. He fought to guarantee some rights for those to be tried by newly created military commissions. And he insisted that Zacarias Moussaoui, accused of conspiring with the Sept. 11 hijackers, be prosecuted in a civilian court. . . .

None of this meant that Ashcroft was a closet liberal. He championed a broad expansion of government power to investigate possible terrorist cells through the USA Patriot Act, authorized the detention of hundreds without charges in the days after Sept. 11, pushed immigration agents to fully use their power to deport foreigners, secured new authority to peer into private records even in libraries, and oversaw legal interpretations that opened the door to harsh interrogation techniques that critics called torture. . . .

Ashcroft declined to comment last week. But Mark Corallo, his former spokesman, said that when it came to resisting what he considered excesses, "he really did throw some sharp elbows."

Two footnotes. First, why don't articles about the midnight visit Andy Card and Al Gonzales paid to Ashcroft, while Ashcroft lay in a hospital bed recuperating from gallbladder surgery, reference the original source of this scoop: not Jim Comey's testimony earlier this week before a senate committee, but a New York Times article published in January 2006?

Second, why does the Post cite Wonkette as a serious news source, on par with Chuck Schumer, Andrew Sullivan and PFAW president Ralph Neas?