The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) went after onetime Trump administration National Security Advisor John Bolton for his “atrocious human rights record” amid an ongoing controversy over the publication of a forthcoming tell-all memoir about his most recent stint in the White House.
President Donald Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr went on the offensive against Bolton on Monday during a roundtable discussion in front of reporters–threatening the possibility of criminal sanctions over the book’s impending release.
Those comments raised the specter of official censorship and a whole host of First Amendment issues surrounding the legal concept of “prior restraint,” an uncommon practice at the federal level wherein courts might allow the government to stop a certain book or newspaper article from being published on national security grounds.
The nation’s oldest and premier civil liberties organization issued a brief statement via Twitter in support of Bolton’s right to publish–rubbishing what many observers have interpreted as White House efforts aimed at preventing a politically damaging book from seeing the light of day.
“50 years ago, SCOTUS rejected the Nixon administration’s attempt to block the publication of the Pentagon Papers, establishing that government censorship is unconstitutional,” the ACLU noted on Monday. “Any Trump administration efforts to stop John Bolton’s book from being published are doomed to fail.”
Technically, the Supreme Court ruled in New York Times v. United States that attempts at government censorship via prior restraint had to be premised on an exceptionally high national security threat. That standard, however, was left undefined with the upshot being that any such attempts at prior restraint are, on their face, unconstitutional.
The ACLU’s statement is correct in the main, however, and the classified information allegedly contained in Bolton’s book is unlikely to meet that decidedly lofty Supreme Court standard.
Early Tuesday evening, the Trump administration, by way of the Department of Justice, filed a lawsuit against Bolton in the hopes of enjoining him from publishing his memoir. DOJ raised breach-of-contract issues and accusing Bolton of “compromising national security.”
The lawsuit contains no references to case law or any national security threat that would support a prior restraint on publication.
In any event, Bolton shared the ACLU’s message of support on Tuesday, directing his followers to the group’s “statement on my upcoming book release.”
Hours later, the ACLU shot back; letting the infamous former United Nations ambassador know that their support for his right to publish was simply a matter of principle and precedent and that it had nothing to do with any sort of political or ideological affinity.
“Now that we have your attention,” the group’s official account tweeted, “please also see the ACLU statement on your atrocious human rights record.”
“As National Security Advisor, [Bolton] threatened the [International Criminal Court (ICC)] over its investigations into the United States’ war crimes in Afghanistan, and celebrated when survivors were denied the opportunity to hold their torturers accountable,” they noted in a separate tweet. “We didn’t forget.”
In a 2018 speech before the conservative Federalist Society, Bolton threatened reprisal actions against the ICC over a planned investigation into the United States’ criminal use of torture in Afghanistan and at several European black sites during the so-called “Global War on Terror.”
“We will ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the United States,” Bolton told the audience. “We will sanction their funds in the U.S. financial system, and we will prosecute them in the U.S. criminal system.”
ACLU Human Rights Program Director Jamil Dakwar slammed Bolton and the Trump administration for what the group termed an unlawful effort “to attack the ICC’s legitimacy” and force member states to cut funding for the human rights and humanitarian law-focused body.
“While Bolton’s hostility to international bodies in general — and to the ICC in particular — is not new, he is now setting a new policy on behalf of the U.S. government,” Dakwar said. “He also made misleading statements and old, half-baked arguments to support the U.S.’s new approach of treating well-respected judges and prosecutors like it treats international drug traffickers or suspected foreign war criminals.”
Since then, the Trump administration has, while parting ways with Bolton, followed up on some of his threats and recommendations.
Last week, the 45th president signed an executive order which purported to issue sanctions against any ICC personnel engaged in the aforementioned torture investigations.
[image via Win McNamee/Getty Images]
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