We are fighting a war against terrorism to defend American values of truth,
liberty and justice. That's how President Bush sold this war to us after the horror
of Sept. 11.
In those first days after The Reckoning, as a shocked nation grieved, the President
held back tears and his lips quivered as he hung up the phone after checking on
recovery efforts in New York.
Americans of all creeds and backgrounds stood shoulder to shoulder. We had
good and right on our side - and yet some of us had healthy doubts about this
war against enemies unknown.
As much as I lauded Bush, I wrote a few days after the attack that I feared
this war on terrorism could turn into a war against the very rights that America's
founders fought to secure against tyranny. Now, almost a year later, my fears
have proved to be a painful reality.
In this nation of laws - based on the separation of powers, on the checks and
balances of each branch of government - we have a police state in the making.
To say that this war is so unique as to demand the dismantling of basic constitutional
protections, as Attorney General John Ashcroft maintains, goes against everything
our young people in military service risk their lives for. It goes against the
very core of what it means to be an American, and it clearly goes against the
We have the right to know what the government's charges are against us. We
have a right to an attorney. We are innocent until proved guilty. We are protected
from illegal searches and seizures. Or so we thought.
The cases of two Americans accused of terrorism puts us on notice.
The two men - Jose Padilla, of Puerto Rican descent, and Yaser Esam Hamdi,
who was born in Louisiana and raised in Saudi Arabia - are being held in solitary
confinement, without access to lawyers, even without official charges filed against
them. They are being treated as military combatants under a system in which the
rules keep changing.
Federal Judge Robert G. Doumar has become so frustrated by the assaults on
the Constitution in the Hamdi case that he blasted government lawyers last week
for not producing any evidence.
"I have no desire to have an enemy combatant get out," Doumar said, "but due
process requires something other than a declaration [by a Defense Department official]
that he should be held incommunicado. Isn't that what we're fighting for?"
Many members of Congress - both Republicans and Democrats - are asking that
question, too. Yet the Justice Department has refused to turn over information
to Judiciary panels that are looking at the ramifications of the misnamed "Patriots
For instance, how many times has the Justice Department obtained authority
for roving surveillance? Ashcroft says that's classified, and the only ones who
can know are members of Intelligence committees that meet behind closed doors.
That kind of secrecy has nothing to do with national security and everything
to do with the type of power grabs that third-rate dictators demand. The U.S.
Supreme Court inevitably will have to decide.
This isn't a matter of Bush being a good guy or not. We all want to get the
bad guys. But we can't pretend to be the "good guys" if our government is willing
to spit on basic rights and shred our Constitution in the name of justice.
Myriam Marquez is a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel.
Copyright 2002 Philadelphia Newspapers