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NMSU government professor to discuss, sign copies of book on former Attorney General John Ashcroft

Note: New Mexico State University Government Professor Nancy Baker will sign copies of her book, "General Ashcroft: Attorney at War," at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in the Mesilla Valley Mall from 1 to 2 p.m., Saturday, April 22. She also will discuss her book and answer questions in Room 106 of Hardman Hall at 6 p.m., Tuesday, April 25. After the discussion, Baker will be available to sign copies of the book.

Dr. Nancy Baker, NMSU associate professor of government (NMSU photo by Sterling Trantham)

ears of digging into government files and attempting to talk with various people who knew former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, Nancy Baker finally compiled enough information to write "General Ashcroft: Attorney at War."

The book was published this month by University Press of Kansas.

Baker's exhaustive research documents that the domestic anti-terrorism measures Ashcroft pursued have had an adverse impact on such constitutional checks on government as the separation of powers and due process of law.

"I didn't want the book to be a polemic, a hatchet job on Ashcroft and his tenure," said Baker, a professor of government at New Mexico State University. "To be fair, he accomplished some important things. He also has been demonized and blamed for everything and that has not been a fair characterization of his tenure."

Doing the research proven challenging, Baker said. In a time of heightened secrecy and fears, shortly after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, the government removed many documents from websites, she added. Also, members of the Bush administration, especially in the Justice Department, were more reluctant to speak with researchers as well as journalists and some of those who granted interviews did not speak on record. While Baker never felt harassed or threatened as she conducted her research, she did feel frustrated.

Ashcroft's reticence could be attributed to the way in which he was treated by the press. When he began his stint as attorney general, he adopted a high profile and frequently engaged the media. However, about two years into his term, the more he faced criticism, the more silent he became. Even when he went on the road to promote the Patriot Act, he was very selective with whom he would meet, Baker said, pointing out that Ashcroft would not grant interviews to print journalists or national broadcast journalists, only to local broadcasters, and these interviews would be short, so in-depth questions could not be asked.

At her Tuesday evening talk at NMSU, Baker also will explore the Justice Department's handling of criminal prosecutions against suspected terrorists, including the difficulty of using a framework of war when dealing with criminal prosecutions.