Ashcroft Overstepping Again

John Ashcroft has accused an Ohio man of plotting to blow up a mall on so little evidence that it amounts to wishful thinking–or his imagination.

Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the indictment at a Justice Department news conference, repeating his warnings about the threat posed by Al Qaeda. “Current credible intelligence indicates that Al Qaeda wants to hit the United States and to hit us hard,” Mr. Ashcroft said. “We know our enemies will go to great lengths to lie in wait and to achieve the death and destruction they desire.”The indictment against Mr. Abdi makes no mention of the alleged plot to blow up a shopping mall. That reference was contained in the motion filed by prosecutors to keep Mr. Abdi in custody. The government’s motion said that Mr. Abdi, Mr. Faris and other co-conspirators “initiated a plot to blow up a Columbus area shopping mall, and accepted bomb-making instructions from one of those co-conspirators.”

Their evidence for these charges amounts to nothing more than the fact that Abdi made an unscheduled trip to Ethiopia. They claim he went ‘to study what one government document in the case described as “radio usage, guns, guerrilla warfare, bombs and ‘anything to damage the enemy,’ ” ‘ but they’ve offered zero proof he did any such thing. In the wake of that joke of a trial in Utah and the travesty in Oregon, both of which cases Ashcroft lost because the JD couldn’t produce any evidence whatever that any of their charges had a basis in anything resembling a hard fact, these new accusations have to be taken with a large beaker of salt. As usual, Kathy at Random Thoughts sums up the situation cogently.

So here’s the problem. I don’t believe Ashcroft. I don’t know if information he released is true or if he’s stretching the truth for political gain. I don’t know if this guy is really a terrorist or just a poor immigrant who was fingered by a prisoner that was being tortured or tempted. I don’t know if he really violated immigration law or if Ashcroft found it convenient to say so, since then he can lock the guy up indefinitely with no due process. I don’t know if the intelligence they’re using as a basis of arrest is credible. I don’t know if he really did get military training in Ethiopia or if he got religious instruction. I don’t know if there was really a plot to bomb a mall since there’s no evidence of it except maybe a roving wiretap that caught a bad joke or two. I don’t know if this guy is a terrorist or a dupe.I do know one thing. If we can’t trust the public pronouncements of the Attorney General of the United States, we’ve got a problem

Um, Kath? We’ve got a problem….

Addendum: Krugman on Ashcroft

No question: John Ashcroft is the worst attorney general in history.

For an example of changing the subject, consider the origins of the Jose Padilla case. There was no publicity when Mr. Padilla was arrested in May 2002. But on June 6, 2002, Coleen Rowley gave devastating Congressional testimony about failures at the F.B.I. (which reports to Mr. Ashcroft) before 9/11. Four days later, Mr. Ashcroft held a dramatic press conference and announced that Mr. Padilla was involved in a terrifying plot. Instead of featuring Ms. Rowley, news magazine covers ended up featuring the “dirty bomber” who Mr. Ashcroft said was plotting to kill thousands with deadly radiation.Since then Mr. Padilla has been held as an “enemy combatant” with no legal rights. But Newsweek reports that “administration officials now concede that the principal claim they have been making about Padilla ever since his detention — that he was dispatched to the United States for the specific purpose of setting off a radiological `dirty bomb’ — has turned out to be wrong and most likely can never be used in court.”

Last week Mr. Ashcroft, apparently in contempt of Congress, refused to release a memo on torture his department prepared for the White House almost two years ago. Fortunately, his stonewalling didn’t work: The Washington Post has acquired a copy of the memo and put it on its Web site.Much of the memo is concerned with defining torture down: if the pain inflicted on a prisoner is less than the pain that accompanies “serious physical injury, such as organ failure,” it’s not torture. Anyway, the memo declares that the federal law against torture doesn’t apply to interrogations of enemy combatants “pursuant to [the president’s] commander-in-chief authority.” In other words, the president is above the law.

The memo came out late Sunday. Mr. Ashcroft called a press conference yesterday — to announce an indictment against a man accused of plotting to blow up a shopping mall in Ohio. The timing was, I’m sure, purely coincidental.

Go read the rest.

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