As radio giants censor antiwar musicians, TV networks bully pro-peace actors, and Attorney General John Ashcroft prepares a new assault on civil liberties, a climate of intimidation creeps over America.
As the United States marches toward Baghdad and braces for terrorist reprisals back home, Attorney General John Ashcroft may see in America’s orange-alert fears and us-against-them attitude a target of opportunity he cannot resist. The man who pushed the USA PATRIOT Act through a terrified Congress in the days after Sept. 11 may be planning a new assault on civil liberties in the wake of the war on Iraq.
In February, the Center for Public Integrity uncovered a confidential Justice Department draft of the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003. The legislation picks up where the PATRIOT Act left off — more wiretaps and secret searches, government access to credit reports and other personal records, a database of DNA samples, and provisions allowing the attorney general to revoke the U.S. citizenship of anyone who provides assistance to a group the government considers a “terrorist” organization.
The draft drew a barrage of criticism from across the political spectrum. The Lawyers Committee for Human Rights called it a “Department of Justice wish list” that would “endanger core civil liberties,” while William Safire denounced it as both an “assault” and an “abomination.”
Although the 120-page draft had the detailed look of a proposal ready for congressional consideration, the Justice Department quickly downplayed it as merely the brainstorming of low-level staff. When pressed about the proposed security measure at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing earlier this month, Ashcroft offered a strange response.