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Friday, August 13, 2004

Count John Ashcroft in

David Joseph is a little guy, about 5-foot-5, maybe 115 pounds. He's 20 years old, looks younger, and has the sluggish demeanor and sad expression of one who is deeply depressed. He has nightmares and headaches. He spends his days dressed in the blue fatigues of detainees at the federal Krome Detention Center, washing dishes at mealtimes, staring listlessly at television images broadcast in a language he doesn't understand, and praying.
So writes Bob Herbert in his New York Times op-ed piece. So why is Mr Joseph behind bars. Well, he is an illegal alien, a boat person from Haiti.

Mr. Joseph is a refugee from Haiti who is seeking asylum in the United States. He is not a terrorist, and no one has even suggested that he is a threat to anyone. And yet he's been in federal custody for nearly two years.

An immigration judge and the Board of Immigration Appeals have ruled that he should be freed on bond, pending a final ruling on his asylum request. But the attorney general of the United States, John Ashcroft, won't let him go.

Playing his ever-present, all-encompassing terrorism card, Mr. Ashcroft personally intervened in Mr. Joseph's case, summarily blocking his release. According to the attorney general, releasing this young Haitian would tend to encourage mass migration from Haiti, and might exacerbate the potential danger to national security of nefarious aliens from Pakistan and elsewhere who might be inclined to use Haiti as a staging area for migration to the U.S.

Let us stop here for a moment and try to take it in. Essentially, what Mr Ashcroft, The Attorney General of the US, is saying is that he is making decisions on David Joseph's case not based upon the merits of the case, or the personal qualities of the detainee, but in order to affect the behaviour of a whole group, in order to penalize a whole group,- namely, current and potential illegal immigrants from Haiti. It appears fair to say that if Mr Joseph were detained in identical circumstances but his country of origin were Greece or China instead of Haiti he would long have been released on bond.

Mr Ashcroft is firm in his belief that this is indeed the way to go. Or at least his dialog with Senator Specter during Mr Ashcroft's appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee leaves one with that impression.

Senator Specter urged Mr. Ashcroft to consider a policy in which the Justice Department would address cases like Mr. Joseph's on a less sweeping, "more individual" basis, which would enable officials to determine whether there was any real basis for concern about terrorism.

Mr. Ashcroft was unmoved. He told Senator Specter: "Sometimes individual treatment is important. Sometimes it's important to make a statement about groups of people that come."

Be that as it may, Mr Ashcroft seems to be a proponent of the idea of group responsibility. That idea is contrary to the spirit of the US law. If we as a society want to include that notion in the law, we should do so in an open and honest manner. That principle,- the responsibility of a group for individual's deeds or proclivities,- must be made part of the law through legislative process. Personally, I think that would spell the end of the Constitution and the lawful society in the US as we know it, but back-door attempts to run such practices must most definitely not be allowed.

I have recently expressed my desire to see certain government lawyers disbarred. I think we have one more name to add to the list of those lawyers: John Ashcroft, the US Attorney General. I would even honor him with the top spot on that list.

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