DUE PROCESS MUST SURVIVE
Los Angeles Times: The nationwide dragnet begun after the Sept. 11 attacks has now landed 1,147 people in jail. For most of those, the government won't disclose even the most basic information: their names, why they are being held or where they are jailed. The U.S. Justice Department insists that those arrested have appeared before judges for hearings and have access to lawyers. But how can we know? The terrorist attacks were clear cause for an intense search for witnesses or accomplices. But national security, the presumptive reason for secrecy, does not justify withholding identities and other basic information about the detainees.
Late last month, federal officials announced that a 55-year-old Pakistani had died, apparently of an heart attack, in his New Jersey jail cell after six weeks in detention. His death seems to have forced the government to reveal that the man, picked up on a tip to the FBI, had been held for overstaying his visitor's visa. The FBI had quickly ruled him out as having any information useful to the investigation. When he came before an immigration judge, he agreed to return to Pakistan, a transfer that was supposed to occur promptly. But eight days later he remained jailed.
A Saudi radiologist spent 13 days in custody, mostly in solitary confinement, unaware he had been mistakenly identified as a material witness in the terrorist attacks. He has since been released.
The Justice Department says most of those in custody are being held on federal, state and local criminal charges, like outstanding traffic tickets, unrelated to Sept. 11. Immigration violations have been found in 185 cases, and a few people are being held as material witnesses, meaning they are suspected of having special information about the attacks.
Mounting pressure: Late last week, perhaps as a result of mounting pressure from civil rights groups to disclose the nature of the charges against these individuals, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that investigators believe that three men picked up in Detroit had advance knowledge of the Sept. 11 hijackings. Last Friday, a New York grand jury returned an indictment against a fourth man for allegedly lying about his association with one of the hijackers.
But what about the rest? There are wives who can't confirm that their husbands are in custody or learn where they are being held. In many cases family members who know a detained relative's location have had trouble getting in to visit.
A coalition of 20 civil rights organizations, led by the Center for Constitutional Rights, last week filed a request with the Justice Department under the Freedom of Information Act seeking basic information about the detainees. If this reasonable request is rejected, the coalition intends to bring a federal lawsuit to force release of the information.
No one is suggesting that the government disclose the leads that enabled agents to make these arrests. But a more public process is clearly necessary, and soon.
OFFER TO HELP CUBA
South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Hurricane Michelle likely blew away hopes in Cuba for better times ahead in the near future. This was the worst storm to hit the impoverished island in half a century.
Unfortunately, Michelle didn't blow away four decades of hostility between the United States and its tropical communist neighbor.
This is not the time to be thinking about trade embargos or the war of words with the Yankees. It may be impossible for Americans to influence politics in Cuba, where Fidel Castro's regime clings to failed Marxist policy. But there is hope of influencing Washington, and the official attitude toward Cuba. Judging from past experience, Cuba won't ask its capitalist neighbor for help, but the United States should offer it anyway.
If Cuba rejects this help, it would be the regime's problem.
Recovery aid: The Cuban people need recovery aid. Fortunately for the island, Michelle cut a swath through more remote areas. The storm spared a populated Havana from a direct hit. Also, Cuba's ability to mobilize its population rapidly probably prevented a greater loss of life. One unconfirmed death was reported in Havana when a balcony collapsed.
Even the most positive Cuban government spin, however, can't deny the obvious.
Tough times are ahead for the Cuban people. The hurricane is certain to have affected agriculture, signaling a drop in food production and another poor sugar harvest. In a country where food is already scarce, any damage to agriculture could spell disaster.
Others aspects of the Cuban economy were hurting before Michelle arrived. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington have been felt in Havana and elsewhere, with a drop in tourism and in family remittances from the United States. To boot, Russia announced the closing of the Lourdes spy station, which generated $200 million a year for the local economy.
In short, the quality of life in Cuba is about to take a new hit. It is for the Cuban people to decide what their political future should be. The embargo stands on the belief that economic deprivation in Cuba will lead to a change in government. But hunger and misery aren't the best agents for political change.
Michelle's winds lost speed after the hurricane barreled through Cuba. The winds of change between the United States and Cuba now need to pick up strength.