- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Attorney General John Ashcroft, who on Tuesday announced his resignation, will be best remembered for his role in overseeing federal law enforcement’s vigorous response to September 11. A deeply religious man and a blunt-spoken prosecutor, he became a lightning rod for critics of the Bush administration’s response to the attacks.

Mr. Ashcroft deserves to be remembered as one of the most important, successful attorneys general. Indeed, his single-minded determination to prevent more terrorist attacks on this country — and the Justice Department’s many successful prosecutions against terrorist networks operating on U.S. soil — are the most important successes of Mr. Ashcroft’s four years as attorney general.

Mr. Ashcroft transformed the FBI from an agency whose primary mission was dealing with kidnappings, bank robberies and interstate criminal activity into one responsible for collecting intelligence and capturing terrorist cells before they attacked. With the passage of the Patriot Act and the resulting removal of the wall between intelligence and law-enforcement agencies, Mr. Ashcroft’s Justice Department has sent scores of terrorists to prison for activities ranging from raising funds for terrorist organizations to plotting to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge. In addition, Mr. Ashcroft also greatly expanded and improved the department’s prosecution of white-collar crime.

After President Bush nominated him to be attorney general four years ago, Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats harshly attacked Mr. Ashcroft at his confirmation hearings. Liberal groups and Democrats like Sens. Richard Durbin and Edward Kennedy falsely tried to depict Mr. Ashcroft as racially insensitive. Mr. Ashcroft was confirmed, but only after venomous, racially tinged Senate debate. Throughout early 2001, he was relegated to spending time on a quixotic quest to end racial profiling.

All of that changed radically after September 11. Mr. Ashcroft moved to arrest more than 700 illegal immigrants in an effort to uncover hidden terrorist cells in this country. Although his decision was harshly attacked by civil libertarians and partisans on the political left, the arrests helped uncover a number of persons linked to terrorism and other criminal activity.

Perhaps the most maligned — and distorted — aspect of Mr. Ashcroft’s record was his agency’s success in bringing terrorists to justice. This spring, for example, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman asserted that the attorney general had failed to convict any “actual terrorists.” The truth is that Mr. Ashcroft has had numerous successful prosecutions, among them the conviction of a group in Virginia who were providing material support to the Taliban and a Pakistani terrorist organization; a group of men who operated an al Qaeda training camp in Oregon.

The nation owes a debt of gratitude to Mr. Ashcroft.

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