In Defense of Freedom

Last week, The Heritage Foundation’s second annual “Protect America Month” came to a close.  The program was designed to express commitment to America’s national security, advocate for increased defense spending, point out the constitutional basis for government’s role in protecting America, and to examine the threats to the United States.  John Ashcroft, former Attorney General of the United States, delivered the closing speech.

Attorney General Ashcroft began by asserting his belief that “the defense of America is tantamount to the defense of freedom.  And freedom is worth defending.”  He astutely reviewed his understanding of the definition of freedom, and how American exceptionalism plays a vital role in contributing and sustaining freedom around the globe.

He rejected the common argument that freedom and national security must be balanced.  Rather, freedom is the highest value with no parallel.  However, in order to maintain it, it must be secured.  Therefore, the two are not counterweights to each other.  Rather, national security protects America’s freedom, and ensures that freedom stays intact.

Ashcroft explained that the ability to engage in the pursuit of happiness increases freedom, while the provision of happiness by the government impairs freedom, and often comes at a high cost.  In other words, when needs are converted into rights, freedom shrinks.  Most importantly, the imposition of that which is not wanted constitutes the denial of freedom regardless of the virtue of that which is being imposed.

Freedom is under attack.  Nine years after September 11, 2001, Americans have become complacent.  Many have a false sense of security.  But the former Attorney General encouraged the audience not to surrender to the terrorist threat, and always be mindful of those who sacrificed their lives for the cause of freedom.

Ashcroft believes that the number one responsibility of the federal government is to protect its citizens.  The way he believes national security is enforced is through the rule of law, so that people are on notice of what they can and cannot do.

In analyzing habeas corpus doctrine, the use of military tribunals and indefinite detention, Ashcroft reviewed numerous Supreme Court cases including Hamdi, Quirin, and Eisentrager.  He also discussed the DC Court of Appeals case, titled Maqaleh v Gates.

When asked about his positions on specific policy and legal matters, he emphasized the reasoning process that should support these decisions.  They included the following:

  • Be aware that policies send a message that can deter behavior or invite behavior;
  • Determine if the conduct in question constitutes a war crime or merely violates a domestic criminal statute;
  • Ensure that all three branches of government are acting within their appropriate constitutional limits;
  • Know that the executive branch can make faster decisions to ensure the protection of America’s national security than can the legislative branch;
  • Acknowledge the fact that military tribunals, while operating under different rules than federal courts, still result in outcomes that are fair and respect the true facts;
  • In deciding whether a defendant should be tried in a military tribunal versus a federal court, determine your objective.   If national security information in involved, minimize the release of this information to our enemies;
  • If a person with US citizen status is fighting against the US with America’s enemies, perhaps he should be treated as an enemy;
  • Laws should be clear and certain.  If the geographical location of the occurrence doesn’t provide clear rules, then look to the circumstances surrounding the case;
  • America should make sure that she runs prisons only in locations where she can maintain control of what occurs within them;
  • Finally, Americans should distinguish between detention for the purpose of punishment and detention for the purpose of removing enemy combatants from the stream of battle.

The former Attorney General also noted that America’s reckless financial conduct will have grave national security implications for future generations who might be unable to finance their defense.  Moreover, if America reveals a lack of self-sufficiency to the world by becoming a debtor to the world, it signals America’s weakness.  Funding national security should be one of government’s main priorities.

America’s current Attorney General, Eric Holder, appears to have no clear rules guiding his decisions in reference to which defendants go to a military tribunal versus a federal court.  His decisions appear to be arbitrary and capricious.  Though he is the head of the Department of Justice, national security does not seem to be his paramount priority.  He refuses to acknowledge the Islamist ideological threat, favors the closing of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center, opposes the Patriot Act (responsible for disrupting numerous terrorist plots in the US) and is critical of enhanced interrogation techniques.  Instead, he has stated that engagement in “dialogue” with the Muslim community is a priority for his Department, as is the prosecution of so-called “hate crimes.”  Though he is not an expert in Islamic theology, he nevertheless asserts with seeming authority the claim that that those who commit terrorist acts in the name of Islam behave in a way that is “un-Islamic” and contrary to Islam’s actual teachings.

By contrast, John Ashcroft led America through its toughest times after the largest terrorist attack on US soil following September 11, 2001.  He made fighting terrorism his number one priority.  He reorganized DOJ to ensure that suspected terrorists were prosecuted when the evidence warranted it.  Under his leadership, DOJ dismantled numerous terrorist cells throughout the US and over 150 plots throughout the world.  Ashcroft’s role in the execution of the War on Terror was one of the most difficult of any cabinet member.

Ashcroft’s speech at the Heritage Foundation expressed a love of freedom, an appreciation of American exceptionalism, an understanding of the threats to liberty, respect for the law, Judeo-Christian values, and a deference to “we the people.”  The Left, of course, has consistently expressed its venom toward John Ashcroft and the entire War on Terror. But Ashcroft’s speech reminded me of the time after September 11, 2001, when, however briefly, the country came together to face our common enemies.  Our government united us in the cause for freedom and our shared American values.  My, how things have changed.

  • Cuban Refugee

    The stark contrast between our former and current Attorneys General is astounding, and a perfect illustration of how many of our country's founding principles, and much of our formerly iron-clad security, have been lost to "hope and change." As I read this excellent article, I was overcome with a sense of loss and grief — almost as if I had lost a beloved member of the family or a close friend. However, I am hopeful that there are still some Americans, who constitute the collective body of our "checks and balances," who will not allow our freedom to be buried six feet under. I pray that, before our country hears the death rattle of liberty, the forces who have sworn to preserve and defend our Constitution will valiantly resuscitate the moribund United States of America.

  • USMCSniper

    Racism still exists in this country the Eric Holders, because the Jesse Jacksons, the Al Sharptons, and the Barack Obamas of the world are keeping this issue alive. Mr. Holder, the shame and the cowardice of racism belong to you and your tribalists, not me.

    • Jim C.

      In other words, it's OK for you to be racist because Obama is making you be that way? LOL

    • Dennis X

      Please, your one of the worst racist there are. Remember what Black co-employees call you. And I sure you'll respond in ebonics.

  • Tanstaafl

    We are at war. The reason that our administration cannot seem to come to grips with this notion is due to its myopia and moral bankruptcy.

    • Jim C.

      Are we? That's the myth being peddled, because the payouts to certain contingencies dwarf any nanny state handouts.

      It still boggles my mind that conservatives haven't themselves hung Dick Cheney on a gibbet for what he's done–massive redistribution of money to his real, private constituents–the oil and defense industries. It's no "conspiracy"–it's all right there, from the meetings before Sept. 11 about how to divvy up Iraq's oil fields to the strained, shameful way in which the most horrific attack in recent memory was spun to justify calling Iraq and "immediate security threat." No one belives this anymore, and it makes me sick we now have to accept it because our sons have performed so beautifully and taken nation-building in Iraq to heart.

      • Jim C.

        We have taken our role in the Allied victiory in World War II–possibly the greatest example of the Good Guys triumphing over evil in all of history–and turned it into a perpetual profit machine for our private sector. We have allowed these small interests to drive our foreign policy, this "liberal interventionism" ever since. We've bought the myth that we are obligated to save the world–all so the freakin American Fruit Gum company can set up a shop with cheap labor.

        This is not to say we should not have kicked some ass in the Middle East, nor found ways to be competetive in the marketplace. Personally, I think we ought to let other countries shoulder this burden to be World Cop. We need to take care of our own.

  • Dennis X

    What was the cost to procecute Tommy Chung at a time of war? Where's our freedom of speech?

  • Dennis X

    Thank you Jim C. I've heard judicial watch was able to obtain info. regarding lil dicks energy meeting is there anywhere we can get this info?

  • Jim C.

    "[Ashcroft] rejected the common argument that freedom and national security must be balanced. Rather, freedom is the highest value with no parallel. However, in order to maintain it, it must be secured. Therefore, the two are not counterweights to each other. Rather, national security protects America’s freedom, and ensures that freedom stays intact."

    Again, and no disrespect to Mr. Ashcroft intended–think long and hard about this stance, and it's long range implications. There was a time when this sort of position was anathema to conservatives because of the leeway and power it gave the federal government. You have to look at it in terms of how you'd feel if your side was no longer in charge.

    To put this in concrete terms, remember how you felt after you learned about the Sept. 11 hijackers. Was your first thought "invade Iraq?" I can almost guarantee it wasn't (I know I wanted to go decimate the Taliban for sheltering bin Ladin.) But invading Iraq was, as a matter of public record, what Cheney and Rumsfeld immediately moved on. Think about that.

    • Jim C.

      I hear it said, bu it has never once been made clear how our interventions in the Middle East have protected our freedoms in this country.

      Our military should protect our shores. Our freedoms are protected by an informed, well-educated (and yes, well-armed) citizenry that understands what its freedoms are and why and how they were bought.. WE THE PEOPLE are the ultimate guardians of that freedom, Mr. Ashcroft.

  • Weldon

    How then should Thomas Jefferson have handled the Arab slave raiders in the Mediterranean Sea in the early 19th Century? Should he have just said "So sorry!" to all those Americans who were sold into slavery. They were capturing our ships who were on trading missions not military missions.

    When do you stop a blood thirsty psychopath: when he leaves your now dead neighbor's house on his way to your house; When he's on your lawn; at your front door; in your living room; when he's already killed everyone else in your house and your next; or when he has already mortally wounded you because you waited to be absolutely 100% of his intentions?

  • Carbon dioxide

    In the article referring to Attorney General Holder:
    "He refuses to acknowledge the Islamist ideological threat, …"
    I disagree with the use of the "Islamist" terminology.
    Not in any way to justify the AG, but I might
    be able to say that in withholding any remarks about Islam is perhaps some type of admission that the main national security threat is not "Islamist" as you refer, but Islam, and I mean mainstream Islam, the fundamental tenets of Islam itself.
    The nonjudicous use of other terms that work to protect mainstream Islam, where the writer actually believes or pretends it is a "religion of peace", that the Koran is on par with Christian Scripture, are a part of the disinformation effort which is fostered by mainstream Islam, not some offshoot as the terms "Islamist" or "political Islam" or "Islamofacist" imply.

  • Mark

    We all see what the Unions are saying. We know what he will say. How does he, and the country he leads, appear to other countries? Basher al-Assad wants nothing from the United States and, like Ahmedinijad of Iran, says that he sees Obama's efforts as attempts to wrest control of Sudan. Why would Obama do that? In the view of our enemies the West wants to loot all resources from each country and kill all the people. That is what they are saying.