COL Stop secret detention
CORRECTION RAN THURSDAY (8/22/02)
The name of a federal judge in a Washington, D.C., case involving people detained after the Sept. 11 attacks was misspelled in an editorial Tuesday. Her correct name is U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler.
---------------------------------------------------------- U.S. should identify detainees held after Sept. 11
An appeal has delayed a federal judge's order to end the secrecy surrounding the arrests of hundreds of people after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Judge Gladys Keppler of the United States District Court in Washington, D.C., had ruled earlier that the detainees must be identified within 15 days of her Aug. 2 order. The government has appealed that ruling, and Keppler has stayed her order until the appeal is settled.
In issuing her original ruling, Keppler said, "The first priority of the judicial branch must be to insure that our government always operates within the statutory and constitutional restraints that distinguish a democracy from a dictatorship."
While complete figures have not been reported, the government said 751 people had been arrested for immigration violations. All but a handful of those have been released.
The Justice Department originally said naming those arrested for immigration violations might interfere with its investigation of the incident. However, the judge said most of these detainees have been released and so are free to let others know that they had been temporarily detained.
The American Bar Association has joined civil rights groups and others that are opposing the secret detention policy. The organization, meeting in Washington, D.C., said there is no justification for a blanket policy of secrecy. It added that the Justice Department should tell where detainees are being held, allow them to meet with attorneys and family members and schedule prompt and open hearings when that is possible.
; Arresting people and holding them secretly is the practice of some South American dictatorships and of the Stalinist-era Soviet Union. In the Soviet Union, thousands were arrested and held without charges in the gulags of that time. In South America, many of the "disappeared" were never heard from again. While we are not suggesting that this will be the fate of these detainees, secret detention is the mark of brutal dictatorships, not of a democracy.
A different policy was adopted for Zacarias Moussaoui, the Moroccan-born French citizen who is being tried as a conspirator in the Sept. 11 attacks. Although there is evidence that Moussaoui was involved with the al-Qaida terrorist group, he was nevertheless charged and is being tried in open court. If that can be done for a defendant facing such serious charges, it can also be done for detainees who were rounded up hastily and who, in most cases, are not even being charged.
The Justice Department under Attorney General John Ashcroft cannot be relied on to be an advocate of civil rights. Ashcroft favors secret detention and is an advocate of the TIPS program, an unnecessary plan to encourage postal carriers, delivery workers and others to spy on the people they serve.
The Bush administration is now retreating from that program because of negative public response. Ashcroft fails to see that the great majority of Americans are loyal to their country and can be depended on to report illegal or threatening activity if they observe it.
The basic issue is that the United States should not abandon its historic commitment to just treatment for people in custody. It is one of the foundations of democracy and one of the things that distinguish our country from oppressive regimes and from the terrorists that oppose us.
With determination we can survive a terrorist attack. We cannot survive as a democracy if we use the attacks as an excuse to abandon the basic principles of criminal justice.