In the wake of the attacks of Sept. 11, President Bush said that one of the things the terrorists hated about our nation was the freedom that it represents. The irony that is emerging now is that in an effort to fight terrorism, some people in the Bush Administration are willing to sacrifice the very Constitution that embodies those freedoms.
It is an even further irony that one of the architects of the dismantling of what has historically made this makes this nation a beacon of freedom is the man who swore to enforce the law, Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Now there is a test case of one of the most controversial powers that Ashcroft ascribed to the federal government post-Sept. 11, the "right" to eavesdrop on conversations between lawyers and their clients who are in federal custody.
The right to counsel is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, and it seems to us that anyone should recognize that relationship between lawyer and client requires confidentiality.
The case: Last week, Ashcroft announced the indictments of Lynne Stewart, a 62-year-old New York attorney known for her radical politics and defense of unpopular clients. Stewart is charged with conveying directives from Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman to members of Islamic Group, an Egyptian terrorist organization he once headed. Abdel Rahman is serving a life sentence in a federal prison in Minnesota for his role in conspiring to blow up New York City landmarks.
The attorney-client privilege is not a license to facilitate terrorism, or, for that matter, would it be a license for a lawyer to aid an imprisoned mob boss in running his criminal enterprises.
And Abdel Rahman is certainly capable of monumental acts of terrorism. Five years ago, the Islamic Group, by its own declarations, was responsible for the slaughter of 58 tourists and four Egyptians in Egypt.
If anyone should be denied the protection of lawyer-client privilege it might well be Abdel Rahman. But the government should have more than a vague suspicion of wrong-doing before taking away a fundamental right.
This case may shed light on how the government is making decisions that could be protecting the public from potential acts of terrorism or could simply be chipping away at what makes America great.