Jewish World Review August 16, 2002 / 8 Elul 5762
Rights matter, even in circus trials
Accused terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui is giving fair trials a bad name. That's probably just what he wants to do and the Bush administration seems to be remarkably eager to let him do it.
The White House is fighting hard for the right to hold American citizens as well as foreigners as "enemy combatants" without charges, bail, access to an attorney or protection against self-incrimination.
A big reason, according to a remarkable story in the August 8 Wall Street Journal, is White House annoyance with Moussaoui's courtroom antics and the aggressive defense that lawyers for accused American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh mounted.
It is not nice, apparently, to annoy the White House in such matters.
As a result, the Journal reports, the administration is already preparing detention cells for an expansion of the policy under which suspected terrorists Jose Padilla and Yasser Hamdi are being held indefinitely without trial as "enemy combatants."
Expansion of its detention of American citizens depends, of course, on the government's ability to prevail in its current efforts to hold Padilla and Hamdi.
Padilla, an American from Chicago, was arrested in May after allegedly taking part in an al Qaeda plot to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in the United States. A special wing in the facility that houses him in Goose Creek, S.C., could be used to jail about 20 American citizens if the government deems them enemy combatants, the Journal said, quoting an unnamed senior administration official.
Hamdi, born in Louisiana to Saudi parents and therefore a likely American citizen, was captured while fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan. He is being held in a military brig in Norfolk, Va.
Among ideas being contemplated by the administration are a high-level committee composed of the Attorney General, the Secretary of Defense and the CIA director that would decide which Americans would be locked up, the story said.
Efforts by the Journal, the Washington Post and myself to get a comment or clarification from the White House were not successful.
If anything is clear, it is the administration's desire to use the Hamdi and Padilla cases to establish exclusive power to decide who is an "enemy combatant." So far, the courts have not given the administration much opposition.
The administration has been mostly successful in its efforts to have the four cases handled in conservative southern jurisdictions. In the cases of Lindh and Moussaoui, they hit the jackpot for an unsympathetic jury pool by having the trials held near the sight of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon.
The government recently refused a federal court's order to turn over documents relating to Hamdi's capture, calling them matters of national security. It is also trying to get Hamdi's public defender removed.
To which a lot of Americans are going to say, so what? And who can blame them. Padilla, Hamdi, Lindh and Moussaoui are a prosecutor's dream when it comes to unsympathetic cases.
Which makes it all the more curious that the administration has shown so little faith in our conventional system of rights and justice, particularly in peacetime. Moussaoui's wackiness is not an argument to deny him a fair trial. It is an argument for the strength of our constitutional system that it can withstand the craziness of others without going crazy itself.
One has to go back to Franklin D. Roosevelt's detention of Japanese Americans during World War II or Abraham Lincoln's suspension of the right of habeas corpus during the Civil War to find comparable White House subversion of fundamental protections against detention without trial.
Both cases involved something we do not have now, which is a declared war. Nor is either example viewed in retrospect as Lincoln or Roosevelt's most honorable achievements.
President Bush's "war on terrorism" -- or "war on terror," as he sometimes calls it -- has no distinct beginning, end, front or rear. It is not likely to end soon, the president tells us, nor with this particular presidential administration.
Government investigators, being human, make mistakes. The recent denials of Steven Hatfill, a germ weapons expert named by the FBI as a "person of interest" in its anthrax terrorism investigation, reminds us of the Richard Jewell and Wen Ho Lee debacles. Government loves to expand its powers when it has unsympathetic suspects.
The lack of certainty and clarity in our war against an easy-to-hate enemy makes it all the more imperative that strict guidelines be set as to how far the power of the executive branch can go in rooting out "evildoers," as the president calls the enemy, in its own citizenry before Congress or the courts jerks its chain.
Otherwise, we give fair trials a bad name.
Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
Comment on JWR contributor Clarence Page's column by clicking here.
08/09/02: Jousting with Rumsfeld's fog of wit
08/06/02: Covert action is cool again
08/01/02: Powell's premature obituaries
07/30/02: A common sense tip on internal snooping
07/18/02: Jacko plays race card badly
07/12/02: Last flight for a pioneer airman
07/08/02: Dems will miss Watts, too
06/28/02: 'Supreme Court reads polls, too
06/25/02: 'The Body' bites, then bows out
06/21/02: Punishment first, then the crime?
06/18/02: Reporting still risky for Haiti's press
06/14/02: Bush's security plan leaves large gaps
06/04/02: Fix FBI's culture gap first
05/28/02: Fidel's new apartheid for tourists
05/21/02: Now McKinney's lunacy sounds like the Democratic Party line
05/19/02: A paradox of historical proportions
05/14/02: 'Murphy Brown' revisited in age of Ozzy
05/10/02: America looks like a model of tolerance and inclusion
05/07/02: Forget it, Bill, you're no Oprah
04/26/02: Mapping out ethnic and racial change
04/23/02: A game of another color
04/19/02: It's high time to open up pot-law debate
04/11/02: 'Osbourne' family values rock, aging Ozzy quakes
03/22/02: Zimbabwe election leaves world sleepless
03/19/02: A slur? Where is thy sting?
03/15/02: A Pearl of wisdom for reporter's unborn son
03/12/02: Army race and gender policies on trial
03/08/02: A short list of losers to be left behind
03/05/02: Revenge of the 'mediasaurus'
02/26/02: Jihads aren't just for Muslims
02/26/02: It's hard to be 'objective' during wartime
02/19/02: Hollywood's new villain: Your HMO
02/12/02: Father of 'Manchild' leaves lasting message
02/08/02: $nookering the reparations crowd
01/31/02: Prisoners of a War of Words
01/29/02: One more Enron woe: Al Sharpton & company
01/25/02: Searching for slaves in bin Laden's attic
01/22/02: Andrew Young's newest 'friend'
01/08/02: Hard-earned lessons from 9-11
12/18/01: Whatever happened to questions about the birds and the bees?
12/14/01: The "White Negro" Taliban?
12/07/01: Jackson's turn to gloat
11/27/01: Friendly warning from a lover of liberty
11/21/01: The face of hunger is changing
11/15/01: Our troubled sense of trust
11/08/01: Lessons about terror from the 'hood
11/06/01: Getting used to the 'new normal'
11/02/01: Wicked ways to make them talk
10/30/01: It's not just about bin Laden
10/26/01: More than mail fell between the cracks
10/23/01: Terrorists threaten urban recovery, too
10/18/01: Sometimes, assassination warranted
10/15/01: Self-censorship rises again
10/12/01: Contradictions illustrate the complicated nature of the new terrorism
10/05/01: Look who's 'profiling' now
10/01/01: Don't trash liberty to save it
09/28/01: Life, love and cell phones during wartime
09/24/01: How to catch an elusive terrorist
09/21/01: The war I was waiting for
09/17/01: When rage turns to hate
09/13/01: Terror attack tests US, let's give right response
09/06/01: U.S. should have stayed and argued
09/04/01: Columbine killer's parents get upclose and personal
08/31/01: Virtual kids? Log me out
08/28/01: Two Africans, one black, one white, same fight
08/23/01: Sharpton for president
08/20/01: Shaking up the rules on keeping secrets
08/16/01: Bush's u-turn on racial goals
08/09/01: Outsider Bubba comes 'in' again
08/06/01: Not ready for 'color-blindness' yet
08/02/01: Immigration timing couldn't be better
07/26/01: Summer of Chandra: An international traveler's perspective
07/17/01: Overthrowing a régime is only the beginning
07/10/01: Big Brother is watching you, fining you
07/05/01: Can blacks be patriotic? Should they be?
06/19/01: Get 'real' about marriage
06/12/01: Amos, Andy and Tony Soprano
06/07/01: Getting tough with the Bush Twins
06/05/01: Bringing marriage back into fashion
05/31/01: "Ken" and "Johnnie": The odd-couple legal team
05/24/01: Sharpton's challenge to Jackson
05/22/01: Test scores equal (a) MERIT? (b) MENACE? (c) ALL OF ABOVE?
05/17/01: Anti-pot politics squeeze the ill
05/15/01: Was Babe Ruth black?
05/10/01: U.N.'s torture caucus slaps Uncle Sam
05/08/01: 'The Sopranos' a reflection of our times
05/03/01: 'Free-fire' zones, then and now
05/01/01: War on drugs misfires against students
04/26/01: Another athlete gets foot-in-mouth disease
04/23/01: 'Slave' boat mystery reveals real tragedy
04/19/01: McVeigh's execution show
04/12/01: Not this time, Jesse
04/05/01: Dubya is DEFINITELY his own man, you fools!
04/02/01: Milking MLK
03/29/01: The candidate who censored himself?
03/22/01: "Will Hispanics elbow blacks out of the way as the nation's most prominent minority group?"
03/19/01: Blacks and the SATs
03/15/01: The census: How much race still matters in the everyday life of America
03/12/01: Jesse is a victim!
03/08/01: Saving kids from becoming killers
03/01/01: Parents owe "Puffy" and Eminem our thanks
© 2001 TMS