UP AGAINST ASHCROFT
Democratic criticism was so tempered during Attorney General John Ashcroft's December 6 appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the hyperventilating Wall Street Journal was right to term the session a "political rout" in Ashcroft's favor. When a fired-up Ashcroft declared that civil-liberties critics "aid terrorists…erode our national unity and diminish our resolve," the Democrats, wary of George W. Bush's sky-high poll numbers, barely pushed back. Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way, says, "It is an open question whether Democrats and moderate Republicans have the will to stand up to Ashcroft and the right-wingers, who practice the politics of intimidation." Where does that leave civil libertarians? Where they have had most successes–the courts. People for the American Way, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the ACLU are exploring the possibility of challenging the Ashcroft order that permits the government to monitor conversations between detainees and attorneys. The Center for Democracy and Technology is trying to determine if any Internet service provider has received an over-broad government order instructing it to hand over electronic records of a customer. The Center for National Security Studies, the Electronic Privacy Information Center and seventeen other groups filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Justice Department seeking information on the more than 1,000 individuals arrested or detained after September 11 (The Nation is a plaintiff in that case). "The Attorney General, in defending his policies, says there have been no lawsuits," notes Anthony Romero, the executive director of the ACLU. "He should hold on to his horses. They're coming."
CASUALTIES ON BOTH SIDES
Robert Fisk, correspondent for The Independent and a Nation contributor, smelled trouble when his jeep broke down in the town of Kila Abdullah, near the Afghan-Pakistani border. A crowd of refugees gathered, at first friendly but then turning angry. Stones began flying. Fisk was grabbed and beaten until blood streamed down his face. He fought back and managed to break free. As he braced for another assault, a Muslim cleric took his arm and calmly escorted him to a Red Cross/Red Crescent ambulance, which carried him to a hospital. Later Fisk wrote: "The people who were assaulted were the Afghans, the scars inflicted by us–by B-52s…. If I was an Afghan refugee in Kila Abdullah, I would have done just what they did. I would have attacked Robert Fisk. Or any other Westerner I could find."