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Ex-AG Ashcroft defends Bush efforts to preserve civil liberties during wartime

[JURIST] Former US Attorney General John Ashcroft [BBC profile], who resigned from the post in November 2004, told an audience at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Tuesday that President Bush has done less harm to civil liberties than any other wartime president in US history, and said that Bush administration efforts to combat terrorism, including the USA Patriot Act [JURIST news archive], were "narrowly tailored" to the threat presented. Over catcalls from students, Ashcroft said that when drafting the Patriot Act, DOJ lawyers always acted within the limits of the US Constitution, and that his greatest failure as attorney general was not doing a good job of promoting the legislation as a necessary weapon in the war on terror.

Ashcroft also reminded the crowd that in March the Senate passed [JURIST report] a Patriot Act reauthorization bill 89-10. The bill incorporated several additional civil liberties protections, including allowing recipients of Section 215 subpoenas for information in terror investigations to be able to challenge the accompanying gag order; eliminating a requirement that people who receive National Security Letters (NSL) [sample text, PDF; ACLU backgrounder] must provide the FBI the names of lawyers consulted about the NSL; and a clarification to ensure that libraries functioning in their traditional roles would not be subject to NSLs. John Ashcroft is currently Chairman of The Ashcroft Group, a corporate strategic consulting firm, and serves as a Distinguished Professor in the schools of Law and Government [faculty profile] at Regent University. The Raleigh News & Observer has local coverage. The Daily Tar Heel, UNC's student newspaper, has more.

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