Cary Clack: Lifetime imprisonment of suspected terrorists is un-American

Web Posted: 01/05/2005 12:00 AM CST

San Antonio Express-News

The ghosts of Jefferson, Washington, Madison and Franklin have long ceased spinning in their tombs. Once word drifted up to them about the Pentagon and CIA's recent request of the White House they probably went looking for Paul Revere's horse so that they could ride back to Earth and haunt some bureaucrats back to their constitutional senses.

The request being made is for the government to plan to indefinitely imprison suspected terrorists even when there is insufficient evidence to charge them. Instead of setting the suspected terrorists free or turning them over to the courts of the United States or other countries they could remain in custody for their lifetimes.

It's ridiculous. It's frightening. It's un-American.

Indefinite imprisonment of someone you think might be a terrorist?

There are those, eager to round up and lock up the terrorists, who will passionately embrace this proposal and condemn those who oppose it as do-gooders "soft" on terrorism who want to "coddle" criminals.

But they should focus on one word: "suspected." It's one thing for the government to have legitimate reasons to detain those who may be terrorists or possess information that could prevent a terrorist attack. It is something else to label someone as a suspect on the flimsiest of evidence and proceed to deprive them of their freedom simply on the presumption that the government is infallible and knows best.

All suspects are not created equally. Some are guilty while others are innocent.

Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, the American people have been treated to breathless and self-congratulatory nationally televised news conferences in which Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft announced the crackdown on this or that terrorist or spy network.

All of which have turned out to be sound and fury signifying nothing.

Two of the government's more notable instances of backtracking were the cases of Capt. James Yee and Brandon Mayfield.

Capt. Yee, a Muslim Army chaplain, was charged with being a leader in a spy ring at Guantanamo Bay but the criminal charges were dropped.

Mayfield, an Oregon attorney and convert to Islam, was arrested as a material witness in last March's train bombings in Madrid. The FBI later admitted to making a mistake in matching fingerprints. Mayfield is now suing the U.S. government.

"Suspect" is an elastic label that can be arbitrarily applied to anyone. Technically, each of us are suspects whenever we fly or just go to the airport because of the security restrictions we must obey.

The indefinite detention of "suspects" with no recourse to a trial is what Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said it is: "A bad idea."

Even the wrongly accused, convicted and executed Joseph K. in Kafka's "The Trial" got a trial.

Fight the war on terror but don't slay civil liberties in the crossfire. Civil liberties aren't about being left or right or Republican or Democrat. They are about American ideals.

If those supporting this idea don't understand this, the ghosts of the Founding Fathers had best stay where they are. They may get detained and labeled as terrorist suspects and we'll never hear from them again.

To leave a message for Cary Clack, call (210) 250-3546 or email at . His column appears on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.

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