ASHCROFT STRAYS FROM THE GOP SCRIPT…. If there’s one thing Republicans agree on right now, it’s that charging terrorists as criminals and holding trials for them in U.S. civilian courts is outrageous. They took the opposite position a few years ago, but they’d appreciate it if we didn’t bring that up.

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft, who spent quite a bit of time charging terrorists as criminals and holding trials for them in U.S. civilian courts, apparently isn’t sticking to his party’s script.

In an acknowledgment that throws a wrench in Republican talking points, former Attorney General John Ashcroft said on Friday that the criminal justice system does, indeed, have a role to play in trying terrorist suspects.

In an interview with the Huffington Post at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the former Bush administration official said that there are “a variety of tools that ought to be available to an administration” in its efforts to curb terrorism and bring terrorists to justice.

Asked specifically about holding civilian trials for terrorists, he said such a venue “has use and utility.”

This is, of course, a rational thing to say. During his tenure at the Justice Department, Ashcroft oversaw federal law enforcement officials who arrested, Mirandized, charged, convicted, and imprisoned hundreds of terrorists, all on American soil and in American courts. This was the norm, and it was not deemed controversial in the slightest. Ashcroft even bragged about it.

Sure there’s a “use and utility” for civilian trials for terrorists. Of course there is.

The president believes this. So does the Justice Department. So does Gen. David Petraeus and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. This is all part and parcel of how the United States operates, and has always operated.

The only officials who disagree are the congressional Republicans who had the opposite position right up until Inauguration Day 2008.

That said, will Cheneys and the GOP go after Ashcroft now? Does he get labeled some kind of “weak on terror” enemy sympathizer by the shameless Republican hacks who endorsed the legal process up until very recently?

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.