The problem with those assertions—made not in response to senatorial questions, let me note, but as part of Mr. Ashcroft’s prepared remarks—is that every one is false.
Start not with the assertions but with the categories of people the attorney general purports to be addressing—his critics, presumably. We who have criticized certain of the administration’s responses to the horrific attacks of September 11 are said to be pitting Americans against immigrants and citizens against non‐citizens and scaring peace‐loving people with phantoms of lost liberty. If I’m not mistaken, it is the administration, in its executive order establishing military tribunals, that has pitted citizens against non‐citizens by providing separate tribunals for the two classes of people, thereby ignoring the plain language of the Constitution that guarantees due process to all “persons.” If that is what the Constitution in fact says, then one can hardly speak of “phantoms” of lost liberty. Immigrants legally in this country have in fact lost liberty.
But how does pointing to that fact aid terrorists? By eroding our national unity, Mr. Ashcroft says, and diminishing our resolve. I see no evidence that honest criticisms have eroded our national unity or diminished our resolve in the war against terrorism, and Mr. Ashcroft has produced no such evidence. He has simply asserted what is patently false. Let us remember that the motto on America’s Great Seal—E pluribus unum, from many, one—speaks not simply to the many peoples who constitute America but to the many ideas as well. Paradoxically, it is in that great diversity that we find unity—and strength. It is a dangerous mind that confuses conformity with unity.
As for giving ammunition to America’s enemies and pause to America’s friends, I dare say that it is those who would compromise our principles who do that. Indeed, it is not our power alone, or even primarily, that marks us as a great nation but our principles, from which our power flows. Compromise those principles and we play into the hands of our enemies while giving pause to our friends, as we have already seen.
Mr. Ashcroft’s charge, finally, that his critics are encouraging people of good will to remain silent in the face of evil is simply inscrutable. Nothing any serious critic has said can be so construed, even remotely. I, for one, take a back seat to no one in my wish to see the evil we are now fighting eradicated. But we must fight that evil in a manner consistent with our principles so that when this war is over those principles will still be standing, to nourish us and the world thereafter.