from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2002, Issue No. 86
September 5, 2002


Attorney General John Ashcroft is a polarizing figure who has taken extreme stands on controversial questions of executive authority, government surveillance, personal privacy and public access to information.

But he is also becoming a quasi-mythical character upon whom some critics project their worst fears and imaginings, to the detriment of public debate over real policy issues.

One such imaginary claim that has recently been served up is that Ashcroft is bent on establishing internment camps for the detention of political undesirables under the guise of the war on terrorism.

"Attorney General John Ashcroft's announced desire for camps for U.S. citizens he deems to be 'enemy combatants' has moved him from merely being a political embarrassment to being a constitutional menace," declared Jonathan Turley, a professor of constitutional law at George Washington University, in an inflammatory August 14 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times entitled "Camps for Citizens: Ashcroft's Hellish Vision."

"Ashcroft's plan, disclosed last week but little publicized, would allow him to order the indefinite incarceration of U.S. citizens and summarily strip them of their constitutional rights and access to the courts by declaring them enemy combatants," Turley wrote. "The proposed camp plan should trigger immediate congressional hearings and reconsideration of Ashcroft's fitness of this important office," he added.

That's a lot of errors in a short space.

A search in the public record for any trace of Ashcroft's "announced desire" or his "plan" for "camps for U.S. citizens" turns up nothing. There was no such announcement. There is no such plan. For the record, "enemy combatants" are not even designated by the Attorney General, but by the President, and they are incarcerated under the authority of the Secretary of Defense, not the Attorney General.

Pressed as to the sources for his colorful allegations, Turley offered two responses. He said that internment camps were "the natural extension" of the government's problematic behavior in the two cases of U.S. citizens held as enemy combatants -- Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi. And he cited an August 8 Wall Street Journal story, quoting an unnamed administration official who said that the South Carolina facility where Jose Padilla is being held could hold perhaps twenty more such prisoners.

"The administration has not denied the story," Turley pointedly told Fox News. Voilà!

Incredibly, columnist and civil libertarian Nat Hentoff praised Turley's perspicacity this week, and advised readers that "the camps are being prepared." See "General Ashcroft's Detention Camps," Village Voice, September 4-10:

Back on Earth, the Justice Department felt obliged to issue a statement rebutting Turley's allegations.

"The attorney general has never announced nor does he or any member of the administration have any plan to establish wartime detention camps for U.S. citizens."


U.S. contingency plans for nuclear conflict with North Korea in the context of the latest Nuclear Posture Review are examined by Hans M. Kristensen of the Nautilus Institute in the new Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists ("Preemptive Posturing: What Happened to Deterrence?" Sept/Oct 2002).

Some of the underlying planning documents, declassified and released under the Freedom of Information Act, are available here:


The evolving debate about a possible U.S. military strike against Iraq is also, more broadly, a debate about the propriety of the so-called Bush Doctrine, according to which the U.S. has a right to preemptively attack any nation that could pose a threat.

The case against a policy of preemption was cogently expressed by Morton Halperin, the former Pentagon and State Department official who is now at the Open Society Institute.

"In declaring such a doctrine, we need to articulate something that we're prepared to have others do as well. This administration doesn't understand that," Halperin told the Chicago Tribune.

"It's impossible to articulate a doctrine [of preemption] which would not justify an Israeli attack on Iraq--because the Iraqis are much more likely to use weapons of mass destruction against Israel--or an Indian attack on Pakistan."

See "Terror war has U.S. in dubious alliances" by Howard Witt in the Chicago Tribune, September 4:


Martin Kamen, a member of the first generation of atomic scientists who got caught up in controversies over atomic espionage, died last week.

Kamen is credited with co-discovery of the radioactive isotope Carbon-14, a milestone in biochemical research.

But he was fired from the Berkeley Radiation Lab in 1944 after FBI agents overheard him discussing "radiation," "Lawrence," and other matters seemingly related to the U.S. nuclear weapons program over dinner with two KGB officers.

His eventful career is described in this New York Times obituary:


The current FBI investigation of a possible congressional leak of classified information provides an occasion to revisit the dramatic story of another FBI investigation of a purported congressional leak 16 years ago. See "Leak Probe Recalls 1986 Incident" by Damon Chappie in Roll Call, September 5:

The now familiar litany of complaints about Bush Administration secrecy is recapitulated in "Bush Expands Government Secrecy, Arouses Critics" by Alan Elsner of Reuters, September 3:


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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