Ashcroft’s backfire

Foreign nationals who would commit acts of terror on U.S. soil should, said the Justice Department, not be afforded Constitutional rights hitherto seen as inalienable. That is, unless they bought a gun here, stipulates Attorney General John Ashcroft. In that case, he wants their rights protected as vigorously as any American.

When someone buys a gun in the United States, federal and state laws require a background check to determine if the potential buyer constitutes a risk to the public. During the past few weeks, FBI and several local police department officials requested access to the background-check records of suspected terrorists and others involved in the domestic anti-terrorism investigations. Given Ashcroft’s demonstrated affection for sidestepping constitutional amendments when convenient, it should have been a no-brainer: If he was willing to ignore the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment – one of the foundations of American judicial processes – then certainly he should have had no problem forgoing the much-contested Second Amendment.

But Ashcroft – once one of the Senate’s most vociferous gun control opponents – and a few of his closest advisors balked at the idea of releasing the records. Ashcroft defended his decision, saying it was in accordance with laws governing the records put in place to protect individual privacy during congressional hearings last week on the Justice Department’s recent conduct.

On it’s own, that justification stands as one of the few noble statements made by Ashcroft since Sept. 11. But taken in light of his unprecedented push for increased wiretapping, surveillance and other anti-privacy initiatives, it seems to be little more than a despicable political remark and casts even more doubt on Ashcroft’s character.

His previous arguments and initiatives pointed to a desire to stop terrorists at any cost, even if it meant sacrificing some personal freedom. And he responded to those who said he was a power-monger by altruistically arguing that everything he did was in the name of public safety. With this latest decision, however, he has effectively pulled the rug from underneath himself. Ashcroft’s previous line of logic lead, in this case, to a conclusion opposite of the one at which he arrived. If he was truly only concerned with public safety – even at the cost of liberty – he would have sided with the law enforcement agencies.

This decision weakens the domestic war on terror not by subverting the Constitution, but by undermining the attorney general’s leadership in the eyes of the law enforcement agencies he controls. His personal political convictions have overridden what he claimed to be a desire to protect U.S. citizens. How Ashcroft intends to function within this contradiction remains to be seen, however he is weekly becoming less and less fit to hold a position of authority in the executive branch.