2001 December 6

AG Ashcroft: Criticisms of War on Terror Give “Ammunition” to the Enemy


Three months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S., Attorney General John Ashcroft testified before the Senate on this day and charged that that those who criticized the administration’s anti-terrorist policies would aid the terrorists. “Those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty … only aid terrorists [and] give ammunition to America’s enemies,” he said. Ashcroft’s statement was among the most belligerent and most threatening administration response to critics of its war on terrorism policies.

While no one was ever prosecuted for remarks criticizing the administration’s war on terrorism policies, as occurred during World War I, Ashcroft’s remarks posed a threat to freedom of speech nonetheless. During World War I critics were prosecuted under the Espionage Act on the grounds that opposing the war undermined the draft. See especially the government’s notorious prosecution for Socialist Party leader Eugene V. Debs for an anti-war speech on June 16, 1918. During the Vietnam War, General William Westmoreland, commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, said on April 24, 1967, that anti-war protests were undermining the war effort.

Learn more: Geoffrey Stone, Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism (2004)

Watch Senator Ted Kennedy question Ashcroft about torture allegationshttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INJ2IaBsqC0

Read Ashcroft’s account: John Ashcroft, Never Again: Securing America and Restoring Justice (2006)

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