[ OUR OPINION ]
ONE positive aspect of the war in Iraq is that it will conclude in a noticeable way in the foreseeable future, whether in weeks or months. That is not the case with the war against terrorism, with no end in sight and security precautions that leave detainees incarcerated and threaten civil liberties of ordinary Americans. At some point, Congress needs to address the unprecedented circumstances that flow from an endless war.
infringe on rights forever
THE ISSUEThe war on terrorism has prompted security and law-enforcement measures that are justified by wartime needs.
Searches at airports and increased use of cameras in public areas may become a permanent part of American life. Rules that allow the government to infringe on basic liberties because of the war against terrorism should not be allowed to continue indefinitely.
At Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, hundreds of terrorism suspects arrested in Afghanistan are being held at a U.S. military base. They are considered "unlawful combatants," and are not afforded legal counsel. However, they are not considered to be prisoners of war so are not protected by Geneva Agreement rules requiring humane treatment -- U.S. authorities say they are treated humanely anyway -- or their release at the end of the war.
In Chicago, the government is holding Jose Padilla -- an American citizen accused of being an al-Qaida agent plotting a "dirty bomb" attack -- as an enemy combatant. It is appealing a federal judge's ruling that Padilla must have at least some access to legal counsel.
Meanwhile, the post-9/11 U.S. Patriot Act allows wiretaps installed for intelligence operations to be used by the Justice Department for criminal investigations. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that civil-liberties groups could not even appeal a decision by a secretive federal appeals court that granted that broad authority.
The appellate ruling was made in November by the three-member Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court, created by a 1978 law that allows the government to use intelligence wiretaps inside the United States. The surveillance court said there was never supposed to be a "wall" between intelligence gathering and criminal investigations. The only plausible way the issue could come before the high court would be through an appeal by a defendant convicted on the basis of information gained from the wiretaps.
At the same time, Attorney General John Ashcroft has issued orders allowing FBI agents and U.S. marshals to usurp the authority of immigration officials to detain foreign nationals for alleged immigration violations. According to the Washington Post, the Justice Department is considering legislative proposals allowing it to conduct clandestine searches or eavesdrop on terrorism suspects for 15 days during a "national emergency" rather than after a formal declaration of war, which current law requires. Of course, that emergency may last forever.
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