the most interesting precedent in relation to that which has ever existed in Anglo- American jurisprudence since the days of the Star Chamber,” a reference to the secret court used by English monarchs from the 1400s to the 1600s.
The Justice Department has also sought to stifle dissent through the surveillance and harassment of citizens not even suspected of terrorist activities. Like Barry Reingold, a 60- year-old retired phone company worker, who was visited by agents because of comments he made at a Bay Area gym. During an argument, Reingold had said, “Bush has nothing to be proud of. He is a servant of the big oil companies and his only interest in the Middle East is oil.” The FBI agents informed him that he had a right to freedom of speech but that “we still need to do a report.” Anthony Romero Executive Director, ACLU
Even more troubling, the attorney general has gone so far as to accuse civil-rights and civil-liberties activists of disloyalty to their country. In a staggering display of hubris on Dec. 6, 2001, Ashcroft categorically rejected questions about his trampling of individual freedoms and constitutionally guaranteed rights. “To those who pit Americans against immigrants, citizens against noncitizens,
those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty,” he said in a speech before the Senate Judiciary Committee, “my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America’s enemies and pause to America’s friends.”
The ACLU did not take this direct assault lying down. It mounted a national advertis- ing campaign to underscore the importance of informed debate in a free society, and brought a number of legal challenges on behalf of those whose rights had been violated or whose voices stilled.
But the government continued to assail its critics. Targets have included a Houston art gallery docent, Donna Huanca, who was investigated by the FBI for alleged “anti-American activity” in connection with a planned art exhibit on covert government activities; and A. J. Brown, a student at Durham Technical Community College in North Carolina, who was grilled by agents about “un-American materials” in her apartment, including a poster of George W. Bush (who as governor of Texas staunchly supported the death penalty) holding a noose.
Kate Rafael, a California peace activist, was so shocked to be visited by FBI agents seeking information about Muslim men that she told them: “If it’s your job to hunt Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, then it’s your job to know that they don’t hang out with Jewish lesbians in San Francisco.”