The military trucks haven't started rolling through our cities, picking up Arabs and Muslims and shuttling them off to internment camps. But the xenophobia of 1940s America is uncomfortably evident today.
After Pearl Harbor, the United States rounded up 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent and kept them in camps. The week before last, the Bush administration ordered federal agents to find and interrogate 5,000 recent immigrants most of them from the Middle East. Then came another order: Any terrorists caught in the war could face secret military tribunals.
Congress, for its part, expanded the attack on rights with an airport security law that denies immigrants who aren't U.S. citizens any jobs screening luggage or checking passengers at airports. Swell, except it's a long-standing policy in this country for non-citizens to serve in the U.S. military, and many are doing so with distinction. I knew two Cubans who did so when I was growing up. So now non-citizens can carry big guns and risk their lives for this country, but soon they won't be able to get work searching for weapons at airports?
I've made no bones about the need to beef up security at airports, and for the federal government to do it right. The president, though, shocked conservatives and liberals alike with executive orders that mock the U.S. Constitution.
As for the federal government's planned interviews of 5,000 recent arrivals to this country, officials should ask questions in an effort to protect our nation from another terrorist strike. After the horror of the attacks on Sept. 11, we must weed out anyone in this country who is a potential terrorist.
But how our nation conducts such investigations will either serve as a testament to the greatness of the Constitution and our American way of life or it will play right into the dirty hands of terrorists who are out to destroy our constitutional guarantees and quash our freedoms. George W. Bush's recent approval of secret military tribunals for captured terrorists hands Osama bin Laden and his men the victory of martyrdom. Worse, it sends the wrong signal to Arabs.
If we're to convince Middle Easterners that our system stands for fairness, then we must make public sufficient evidence to prove the guilt of bin Laden. Those under bin Laden's maniacal chain of command should face an international tribunal that would include Arab governments. Only then would America's actions be in sync with the president's own words.
After 9-11 it appeared that W. would not knee-jerk into tactics that would use innocent Arabs or Muslims in this country as scapegoats. Early on, the president made a compelling case for fighting terrorism while maintaining civil rights. We should all respect Islam, he said.
Right now, people are being held in secrecy in this country because they're Middle Eastern and have overstayed their visas or, the government claims, they're "material witnesses." The administration wants to use the immigration violations as a pretext to monitor conversations between those detainees and their lawyers. Forget reasonable suspicion. Forget first getting a judge's permission to eavesdrop. Forget the Constitution. That's how totalitarian regimes operate.
Those being held haven't been charged with any terrorism-related activity, mind you. All investigators might have is a hunch based on someone's associations or dress or accent.
Even during a war especially during a war we must take pains to uphold our Constitution. What happened to constitutional protections that apply to all persons in this country?
Oh, you say it's all about fighting them? We're the good guys. It won't affect us.
Watch the slippery slope. In a mistaken belief that security can be achieved at the expense of our long-established rights, our president blindly leads us down the terrorists' slimy path of intolerance.