Center for American Progress

A Declaration Calling for the Resignation or Removal of John Ashcroft, Attorney General of the United States
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A Declaration Calling for the Resignation or Removal of John Ashcroft, Attorney General of the United States

A Declaration Calling for the Resignation or Removal of John Ashcroft, Attorney General of the United States

Presented by the Center for American Progress and opened for signature on June 18, 2004.

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for the people to call to account and seek the removal of those who govern them, a decent respect to the opinions of humanity requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to such action.

The history of law enforcement by the present Attorney General is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States, to the detriment of both our liberty and our security. He has forfeited, through his disdain for the Constitution and the Rule of Law which he has sworn to uphold, any legitimate claim to exercise power over his fellow citizens. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

Having failed to seek adequate resources for counterterrorism efforts prior to the attacks of September 11, 2001, he has diminished both our security and our liberty by adopting a series of domestic measures that are unfocused and overbroad; in place of sound, sensible law enforcement, intelligence-gathering and immigration policies, he has authorized hundreds of secret arrests and indefinite detentions without charge, without counsel, and without trial, and has lifted long-standing restrictions protecting the public from unwarranted surveillance.

Despite these draconian measures, he has failed to bring to justice any significant operatives involved in the planning or execution of the attacks; indeed, he has compromised ongoing prosecutions in U.S. and foreign courts by refusing to permit court-ordered access to witnesses in U.S. custody, withholding evidence, and making extrajudicial statements regarding pending cases.

He has argued before the Supreme Court that individuals whom the president has unilaterally designated as “enemy combatants” may be detained indefinitely without charge and without legal representation; asserted that the courts have no jurisdiction to review such designations; falsely represented to the Court that the U.S. does not engage in torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment to obtain information; and attempted to influence the Court’s deliberations by declassifying and releasing departmental memoranda which the individuals to whom they pertain have had no opportunity to challenge.

He has brought into international disrepute the American system of justice by counseling the president that, as Commander-in-Chief, he is not bound by laws or treaties that prohibit torture, inhuman, or degrading treatment of captives.

He has violated U.S. and international law by approving the rendition of foreign nationals from friendly nations to third countries in which there were substantial grounds for believing that they would be in danger of being subjected to torture.

He has employed the immigration laws to harass, abuse, detain and deport hundreds of individuals with no discernible link to terrorist activities; yet when his Inspector General reported that some of these people were held for unconscionable periods for no legitimate reason, his spokesperson said, “We make no apologies.”

He has impeded congressional review of Justice Department activities by refusing to provide timely information to congressional oversight committees regarding his use of the USA PATRIOT Act and other counterterrorism tools; by seeking extensive new powers before Congress has had an opportunity to determine whether the existing authorities are being properly employed; and by accusing his congressional critics of giving aid and comfort to the enemy.

He has undermined judicial independence and curtailed the responsible exercise of prosecutorial discretion by ordering United States attorneys to report any federal judge who issues a lighter sentence than is called for in the Sentencing Guidelines.

He has infringed on local autonomy and states’ rights by seeking the death penalty in states that do not authorize its imposition, even where the offense charged does not involve a distinct federal interest.

He has sought to chill expressive activities protected by the First Amendment by bringing frivolous actions against nonviolent protesters.

He has politicized the hiring and enforcement practices of the Department of Justice, dismissing career officers perceived as loyal to the previous Administration and filling vacancies with like-minded individuals. Personnel changes in the Civil Rights Division—coupled with a strained reading of the law—have led to decreased enforcement actions in fields as varied as housing and employment discrimination

He has compromised the constitutional right to counsel by authorizing government officials, in their sole discretion, to monitor confidential attorney-client communications.

In his zeal to circumscribe reproductive rights, he has sought to obtain patient medical records, asserting that federal law ”does not recognize a physician-patient privilege” and that patients ”no longer possess a reasonable expectation that their histories will remain completely confidential.”

He has undermined public confidence in the justice system by perpetuating what one conservative senator has described as “a culture of concealment”: withholding information from the courts, congressional committees, and the public; making novel and sweeping claims of executive privilege, not to protect the national security, but to shield officials from embarrassing revelations; and prompting an eminent federal appellate court judge to write, in Detroit Free Press v. Ashcroft, “Democracies die behind closed doors.”

Like his infamous predecessor, A. Mitchell Palmer, who won a dubious place in American history by responding to a series of bombings in 1919 with the mass arrests and deportations that became known as the Palmer Raids, Attorney General Ashcroft has sought to justify his excesses by arguing that “our enemies are ruthless fanatics.” We cannot defeat fanatics by becoming fanatics ourselves, giving them the victory they seek by remaking our society in their image.

An Attorney General whose character is thus marked by acts which define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the chief law enforcement officer of a free people. We, therefore, as free men and women devoted to the security and well-being of these United States, solemnly publish and declare, That Attorney General John Ashcroft should be removed from office and a successor named who will restore the honor, integrity, and good name of the Department of Justice.

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