THE STAKES FOR LIBERTY
Washington Post: The past year saw a continuing debate over how sweeping the government's powers to fight terrorism ought to be. The fight stretched from the scope of surveillance authority, to the power to detain citizens and immigrants, to the government's ability to keep information secret. And yet the debate has taken on a frustrating character. The administration too often acts as though there is no useful discussion to be had -- as though it is merely seeking isolated technical changes and the anxiety many people feel reflects weakness in the face of evil. Civil libertarians, meanwhile, describe each proposed change as though the sky were falling. Lost has been a sense of the big picture: what the stakes really are as the government's counterterrorism powers grow.
The broad danger, in our view, is that a kind of alternative legal system has come into existence for an ill-defined category of offenses involving national security. For suspected terrorists, the government has its choice of the surveillance regularly used for criminal suspects or the less-regulated regime designed for foreign intelligence. It can try suspects in courts or in military tribunals or -- if it chooses to designate them as enemy fighters -- not try them at all. It can give them lawyers or deny them lawyers and can, if it chooses, monitor lawyer-client communications.
While the government makes a case for each of these authorities (for some more convincingly than for others), the environment they create cumulatively is troubling. This is particularly true because the war they are intended for may prove a near-permanent state of affairs, and victory may be difficult to recognize. It is an environment in which the president has nearly unbridled authority to pick the legal regime most advantageous at every step of an investigation or a proceeding against an individual -- in which a person can be plucked out of the protections of the Bill of Rights at the whim of the executive branch of government.
The war on terrorism has highlighted the limits of the traditional criminal justice system for taking on an international terrorist group such as al-Qaida. But without more clearly defined boundaries and restrictions, this alternative legal scheme -- which offers the great attraction for the government of lower standards, less oversight and less interference from pesky defense lawyers -- could easily invade the traditional system and undermine its protections. Drug cartels, for example, pose a national security threat in some sense. What principle will stop the executive branch from treating U.S. citizens employed by a Colombian cartel with the flexibility it now grants itself for members of al-Qaida?
With Congress so far unwilling to get involved in defining reasoned boundaries, the courts have been the only realistic check on the Bush administration's unilateral assertions of power. This is a far-too-passive means of making law in such a fateful area. In the American system, the national legislature is primarily responsible for determining what the law should be. If, through inaction, it effectively cedes that power to the president, the new rules will reflect the presidency's interests at the expense of all others.
A ONE-SIDED RELIGIOUS WAR
Dallas Morning News: The United States is not at war with Islam, but a part of Islam is most certainly at war with the United States. Anyone who doubted that after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States need only observe the cold-blooded murder of three American missionaries in Yemen on Monday.
The accused murderer, Ali Abdul Razak Kamel, told Yemeni officials that he shot the Americans in the head at point-blank range "to cleanse his religion and get closer to Allah," the Reuters news agency reported. How's that for piousness? Kill an infidel and guarantee oneself an eternity in paradise, black-eyed virgins and all.
Kamel may have thought that he was doing the Lord's work. Someone should explain to him that he was not. We nominate every Muslim cleric from Dallas to Riyadh. The ones who decline the invitation will speak as loudly and as clearly as those who defend Kamel's vile action on the basis of scriptural dogma.
But make no mistake: He, the mutes and the apologists represent the worst kind of intolerance and disrespect for divinity and humanity.
In truth, the dead Southern Baptist missionaries -- one of whom hailed from Texas -- were closer to the Almighty than Kamel ever will be. They worked in a hospital that treats 40,000 patients per year in a country where the average person earns only $2.25 per day. They meted love and healing; Kamel hatred and death. The tangential victims include thousands of poor Yemenis who no longer will benefit from the missionaries' care, and other foreign humanitarians, who henceforth may be too afraid to stay. What a terrible pity.
The U.S. and Yemeni governments should deal harshly with the alleged murderer and his accomplices. In the meantime, non-Muslim Americans in Arab and Muslim countries should beware of the fanatics who misguidedly consider it their religious duty to kill people who think and worship differently than they do.