Nearly everyone has said it at this point. (Jake Weisberg makes the case eloquently.) But let me at least go on record: John Ashcroft’s performance before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday was offensive, even disgusting. On attitude and lack of forthcoming-ness alone, it was bad. But to argue that those who raise questions about civil liberties are somehow aiding the terrorists is offensive and, frankly, requires an apology.
Even if you don’t think the Justice Department has done anything wrong or over-stepped on any count, you should still be glad that some people are raising these questions.
Wartime and crisis often require steps that would be unwarranted and even unacceptable in peacetime. But there must some counter-balance to the government which, in the nature of things, will try to push the ball as far as it can.
So it’s imperative that people should be raising these questions, issuing these criticisms – if only to put the state to its test, to make sure it can meet its burden of showing that the steps it’s taking are both necessary and constitutional – two variables that become interwoven in moments like these.
Anti-war critics are always permissible, but I’m not sure they’re always necessary. Civil liberties critics are always necessary. Even when they’re wrong.
This is the problem with Ashcroft. Both in his penchant for secrecy and his intolerance of criticism, his flaws of character and untoward belligerence get him in trouble even when he’s right on the merits.