Ashcroft Says Not to ‘Put Our Head in the Sand’ in War on Terror

By Edwin Mora | February 23, 2010 | 3:08 PM EST

( – Former Attorney General John Ashcroft told the audience at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Friday not to “put our head in the sand” by trying foreign terrorists only in the criminal justice system.
He told a packed house he believed the U.S. has “the duty from to time to respond with the mechanisms and capacities of war rather than to put our head in the sand and to think that we’re not at war or fail to consider that we’re at war because we’re so in love with the vocabulary of the civil justice system.”
Ashcroft, a former governor and U.S. senator from Missouri, headed the Justice Department during George W. Bush’s first term. He appeared to be taking the Obama administration to task for Mirandizing terrorist Umar Farouk Adulmutallab, who attempted to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day, and for planning to try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in civilian court.
The former top law official in the country said that when it comes to the war on terror, the criminal justice system was one in an array of tools that should be available to the president.
“Now, in the arena of the war on terror, let me say that there are a variety of ways that we can undertake our effort to secure the American people,” Ashcroft told the crowd.
“Included in those ways are the criminal laws that the United States normally enforces on its shores, but also, to the extent that we are at war, we have the ability – and I believe we have the duty from time to time – to respond with the mechanisms and capacities of war rather than to put our head in the sand and to think that we’re not at war or to fail to consider that we’re at war because we’re so in love with the vocabulary of the civil justice system,” he added.
“You should avoid the vocabulary that prejudices the nation against doing what it needs to do in order to secure this country,” the former attorney general said.
Ashcroft said instead of using the vocabulary that goes along with a domestic criminal case, the administration should more plainly describe what he thinks is a war.
“The defense of freedom requires an integrity of vocabulary and a transparency in policy that I believe is essential for our success. I think when defending freedom, if you refuse to call a war a war you’re unlikely to be able to defend it successfully,” he said, alluding to the so-called war on terror.
“If when you are – if the terrorist is making war on you, and you refuse to confess that you are at war with the terrorist when you make a response,” Ashcroft said, “you might limit your response improperly so that you don’t have success in preserving and protecting the liberty which we all know ought to be protected.”
Because of strides in technology, America faces the greatest threats it ever has from large-scale weapons, and while it used to take a nation to challenge another nation, now the same could be accomplished by a relatively small group of people, Ashcroft said.

For that reason, “prevention must continue to be our priority, especially when those who would seek to harm us plan to destroy themselves in the perpetration of the event,” he said.
“So it is important that we not have a vocabulary that exclude treating acts of war as acts of war and that we consider the potential of using the capacities of war when we are at war so as to limit the kinds of jeopardy in which we find the citizens of this great country.”
Ashcroft closed by explaining that he believed it was the purpose of any national security measure to preserve the liberty of Americans, conditions under which there is “an alchemy in human existence” where “ordinary people become extraordinary.”
“They do extraordinary things in the environment and in the presence of liberty and freedom,” he said.
“That’s what the purpose of self-government is about in America … so that those in Washington who might seek to impose their values on the people could be called to attention and awakened—maybe by an election in Massachusetts, maybe even a special election – which would ring the bell and say, ‘No, this country is not a place where those in Washington impose on the people what they don’t desire, this is a place where the people of the United States come together to tell their leaders what they do desire,” he added.
The election of Scott Brown as the new senator from Massachusetts on Feb. 19 was seen as a rebuke of Obama’s national security policy and Congress’ maneuvering to pass its health care reform bill. According to Rasmussen Reports, who conducted a post-election survey, Brown beat Democrat Martha Coakley 67-29 among voters who ranked national security their top priority.
CPAC, an event sponsored by the American Conservative Union, brings conservative leaders in politics and business together from around the country to speak to the movement. Organizers said about 12,000 people were attending this year’s events, held at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C.