The Magazine

John Ashcroft, Maligned Again

From the August 4 / August 11, 2003 issue: The New York Times tells more whoppers about the Patriot Act.

Aug 4, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 45 • By DAVID TELL
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Whether or not it's fair to say that the IG's office has been "overwhelmed" by the resulting workload, it's certainly the case that civil rights protests lodged against Justice employees are sharply on the rise. During the previous six-month reporting period, June through December 2002, Glenn A. Fine and his staff received 783 complaints "in which the complainant makes any mention of a civil rights or civil liberties violation, even if the allegation is not within the [inspector general's] or the [department's] jurisdiction, or the allegation appears unsupported on its face." Those 1,073 total complaints the IG has more recently tabulated, then, represent a 37 percent upward spike.

And yet the absolute number of complaints judged "credible on their face" has remained almost perfectly flat: 34 this time, 33 the time before. The other 1,039 are either misdirected, involving gripes against people who don't work at the Justice Department; or not stuff properly considered a "civil rights" issue ("e-mails from individuals asking about the status of immigration paperwork they had submitted to the INS," for instance); or altogether "unrelated," as the IG report gently puts it ("individuals who claim they are under 24-hour surveillance by the CIA" and "non-detained individuals who claim they are being tortured by the government"--that kind of thing).

Bottom line: People are more and more likely to accuse the Justice Department of doing them wrong--which only stands to reason, since the New York Times and its hundreds of imitators have spent the past two years telling them that John Ashcroft is raping the Constitution. But it's less and less likely that those accusations are "credible."

And "credible" is not the same thing as "true," incidentally. A fair bit of last week's IG report was devoted to the disposition of "credible" allegations first identified in earlier reports. Most remain unsubstantiated. And all the worst of them--like the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee's claim that an INS detainee in Texas was forced to eat pork, beaten, "had six teeth extracted against his will," and was then denied medical treatment--turned out to be false.

David Tell is opinion editor of The Weekly Standard.