Dispatches > The Buzz

'Defense of liberty is not evil'

INTERVIEW: Ashcroft on 9/11 and Patriot Act critics

Issue: "Arafat: The devil you know," Sept. 20, 2003

On Sept. 9 a booing and hissing crowd of about 1,200 people greeted Attorney General John Ashcroft's arrival at Faneuil Hall in Boston with fists and middle fingers upraised, cries of "Shame," and the playing of the "Imperial Death March" from the movie Star Wars. On Sept. 11 he spoke with WORLD about the criticism he has received and the USA Patriot Act-

When you spoke in Boston on Tuesday, demonstrators carried signs saying "Ashcroft more evil than Steinbrenner." Did you ever expect to be seen in Boston as lower than the owner of the New York Yankees?

(Laughing) I need a picture of that sign. That's the ultimate insult from Red Sox fans. Of course, [Boston] shipped Babe Ruth to New York.

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Some liberals and libertarians say you're evil. Do you think it's because of specific actions you've taken or because you're identified as a Christian?

I think they are misinformed if they think we are somehow eroding or undermining liberty. We're securing liberty. There is no such thing as freedom without the ability to thwart those who would destroy freedom. The defense of liberty is not evil.

New York's Newsday yesterday complained that "Ashcroft has been known to infuse his speeches with religious imagery," and gave as an example your noting that "liberty is the greatest gift of our Creator." Are we at the point where even mentioning the Creator sets off journalistic fire alarms?

That would be a tragedy indeed. The Founders embraced the notion that we are created. We're not accidental. We're endowed with a certain set of characteristics. We're programmed so that we live best, achieve the most, and flourish in freedom. [Remembering the Creator is important to] the defense of freedom, because if freedom only comes from the consent of the majority, then it takes only the majority to change that.

Will the proposed expansion of the USA Patriot Act limit freedom? Why, for example, do you need federal law-enforcement agencies to be able to issue "administrative subpoenas" in terrorism cases without getting approval from a judge or grand jury?

In the aftermath of 9/11 we needed to get hotel records quickly. Some hotels are reluctant to provide them absent of some official government demand or they might be sued. So the subpoena is frequently a matter of safety for the person presenting the information.

An Associated Press poll found 51 percent of Americans believe it will be necessary for average people to give up some individual freedom as part of the fight against terrorism. Which freedoms are you willing to give up?

I'm not willing to give up any yet. [For example,] the ability of government to [wiretap a new phone] when the terrorist changes phones, that's not giving up liberty, that's securing liberty.

The Bush administration defied a federal judge for the second time yesterday in the Moussaoui case. How is that defiance different from Justice Roy Moore's defiance in the Ten Commandments monument case?

The Classified Information Protection Act is designed to allow trials to go forward. It specifically provides that if the trying court and the parties do not agree, [an appeals process continues]. The federal judge was not defied in the sense that we won't accept the outcome.

The New York Times editorialized that your recent speaking tour was "a charm offensive." You've always struck me as straightforward and at times admirably blunt. Have you gone to charm school?

That's the nicest thing they've said about me in a long time.

According to WORLD's research, the number of press articles with the words "next attack" and "terrorist" is down by 80 percent since the last several months of 2001. Are we more secure, or are we taking safety for granted again?

We are more secure, but I'm not forgetting.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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