WASHINGTON - Federal judges are jeopardizing national security by issuing rulings contradictory to President Bush's decisions on America's obligations under international treaties and agreements, Attorney General John Ashcroft said Friday.
In his first remarks since his resignation was announced Tuesday, Ashcroft forcefully denounced what he called "a profoundly disturbing trend" among some judges to interfere in the president's constitutional authority to make decisions during war.
"The danger I see here is that intrusive judicial oversight and second-guessing of presidential determinations in these critical areas can put at risk the very security of our nation in a time of war," Ashcroft said in a speech to the Federalist Society, a conservative lawyers' group.
The Justice Department announced this week it would seek to overturn a ruling by U.S. District Judge James Robertson in the case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who the government contends was Osama bin Laden's driver.
Robertson halted Hamdan's trial by military commission in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, rejecting the Bush administration's position that the Geneva Conventions governing prisoners of war do not apply to al-Qaida members because they are not soldiers of a true state and do not fight by international norms.
Without mentioning that case specifically, Ashcroft criticized rulings he said found "expansive private rights in treaties where they never existed" that run counter to the broad discretionary powers given the president by the Constitution.
"Courts are not equipped to execute the law. They are not accountable to the people," Ashcroft said.
Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, compared Ashcroft's remarks to those the attorney general previously made indicating that opponents of administration counterterrorism policies were assisting terrorists.
"It's entirely in line with his overt hostility to dissent, debate and judicial review," Romero said. "That further underscores the need for a wholesale review of Mr. Ashcroft's policies and a new direction in the Justice Department."
During his successful re-election campaign, Bush repeatedly promised to appoint judges who would adhere to strict interpretations of the Constitution. In addition to numerous lower courts, Bush is likely to appoint at least one and perhaps several justices to the Supreme Court during the next four years.
The administration lost a crucial legal battle this year when a divided Supreme Court determined the president lacks the authority to hold terror suspects classified as enemy combatants indefinitely with no access to lawyers or the ability to challenge their detention.
Ashcroft intends to remain as attorney general until his nominated successor, Alberto Gonzales, is confirmed by the Senate.