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America can't be saved by destroying the American way



Published: Mon, November 19, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Americans are angry. They've seen the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center collapse before their eyes, knowing that thousands of men and women were in those buildings as they crumbled.

They're feeling angry, vengeful and, perhaps, afraid of what might come next.

And so it might be understandable if Americans looked the other way while President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft promulgate orders and pursue policies that are -- this is a difficult word to say -- unAmerican.

Ashcroft has effectively suspended the Sixth Amendment right to legal counsel by telling the Justice Department to monitor conversations between a suspected terrorist and his lawyer. The Supreme Court, by the way, has ruled that the Sixth Amendment doesn't just apply to citizens, it applies to every person in this country.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department is still holding an estimated 1,000 persons who were picked up shortly after September 11 without charging them with a crime and with no public record of their detention.

Star chambers: Most recently, President Bush announced that he has authorized the military to conduct trials of apprehended terrorists and their supporters abroad. These secret trials would have their own rules of evidence and wouldn't require a unanimous finding, even to return the death penalty. There would be no right of appeal.

In the early days of our war on terrorism, President Bush told the American people that one of the reasons Osama bin Laden and his ilk hated America was because we are a freedom-loving nation. If the president pursues this ill-conceived strategy, he will no longer be able to argue that our sense of justice is superior to that of our enemies.

He whom the gods would destroy, they first make angry. If we allow our anger and fear to overcome our sense of justice, we will destroy an important part of this nation's heritage and will damage its standing in the civilized world.

Precedent: In the wake of World War II, faced with the task of administering justice to those responsible for the Holocaust, the Allies managed to maintain a respect for the rule of law. They conducted fair and open trials of war criminals.

We acknowledge that the evidence was easier to amass because the Third Reich did a marvelous job of documenting its crimes against humanity. Today's terrorists are not likely to be so accommodating, but that is not reason enough for America to abandon its historic commitment to justice.

A suspected terrorist abroad isn't entitled to a trial by a jury of his peers as provided in our Constitution, but he should get a fair and public trial.




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