Secret Tribunal

By Cole, David | The Nation, May 6, 1991 | Go to article overview

Secret Tribunal


Cole, David, The Nation


On March 12 when President Bush unveiled his domestic crime bill, he urged Congress to enact the measure as a way of welcoming home the soldiers who fought in the gulf. The crime bill's provisions for deporting foreign "terrorists" do parallel some aspects of Operation Desert Storm, but not ones Bush would like to acknowledge. Just as the Administration kept the press from observing its military effort in the Middle East, it now proposes secrecy in proceedings to expel immigrants from this country. And in both initiatives, while the Administration talks of the need to punish heinous crimes, the main victims of its actions are not criminals but foreign citizens with the wrong political allegiances.

Under the Bush crime bill, the government could decline to reveal publicly any evidence it deems confidential and which it seeks to use to deport a foreign citizen for "terrorist activity." Moreover, it can conceal the evidence not only from the public but from the foreign citizens themselves, thereby depriving them of any chance to defend themselves.

Some might consider such drastic action warranted to respond to terrorist threats. But the right to due process of law does not turn on the gravity of the government's accusations; we give as much if not more procedural protection to those charged with serial murders or treason as to those charged with income tax evasion.

More disturbing is the government's sweeping interpretation of the word "terrorism." To the Immigration and Naturalization Service, "terrorist activity" includes not only setting a bomb but also fundraising or recruiting members for any organization or government body that has engaged in unlawful violent activity. Thus the definition turns not on what a person has done but with whom he or she has associated. Obviously this treads on First Amendment rights of association. In a secret trial, who is to know if the government's "evidence" consists of illegal acts or constitutionally protected associations?

The government's definition of "terrorist activity" is so broad that, if consistently applied, it would cover all foreign citizens who have raised funds for the African National Congress, the government of Israel, the Irish Republican Army or the Kurdish rebels in Iraq. Of course, the "terrorism" label is not applied consistently. Those who use violence to achieve ends consistent with Administration policy are "freedom fighters." The likelihood of selective enforcement underscores the injustice of deportation trials held in secret.

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