Attorney General John Ashcroft took his controversial road show in defense of the U Sa Patriot Act to Buffalo yesterday. “Thanks to you,” he told an audience of law enforcement officials, “we’re winning the war on terrorism,” the Buffalo News reports.
Ashcroft cited last year’s arrests of what he called a “terrorist cell” in nearby Lackawanna as one of the hallmark accomplishments of that effort. He also quoted Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.
Standing outside the hotel among more than 200 protesters, Charles H. Cobb of the Western New York Peace Center, said, “I think Thomas Jefferson would be turning over in his grave if he heard that speech, and so would Lincoln,” Cobb said. “So would thousands of American servicemen who died trying to keep America as the land of freedom. The Patriot Act is deplorable and so is Mr. Ashcroft’s public relations tour.”
Ashcroft spoke for 25 minutes to about 200 law enforcement officials. Arrayed behind him were about two dozen uniformed area police officials, including Lackawanna Police Chief Dennis J. O’Hara, Buffalo Police Commissioner Rocco J. Diina, and Erie County Sheriff Patrick Gallivan.
A handful of television reporters were granted three-minute interviews with Ashcroft, but The Buffalo News, the Associated Press and Buffalo radio stations who sought to question him were ushered away.
In an interview with WGRZ-TV, Ashcroft denied allegations that the six men arrested in the Lackawanna case had been threatened that, if they did not plead guilty, they could be declared “enemy combatants” and sent to secret military jails. James P. Harrington, the attorney for one defendant, Sahim Alwan, said Justice Department attorneys gave clear indications after the arrests that the men could face much harsher charges if they did not accept plea agreements.
Harrington said that in the criminal cases filed in Buffalo federal prosecutors have never made the allegation that the Lackawanna men formed a “terrorist cell” or that they formulated any plans for a terrorist act. “He’s in the business of selling fear,” Harrington said of Ashcroft. “He’s using this case for political purposes, and that is unfortunate.”