Domestic Violence


As the Taliban were retreating under the combined assault of opposition forces, it was ever more evident that the Bush Administration had undertaken an assault of its own, on the Bill of Rights, that is likely to outlast the war. The troubling news of an executive order quietly issued on October 26 by Attorney General Ashcroft that would eliminate attorney-client confidentiality for terrorist suspects was trumped only days later by a sweeping presidential directive allowing closed-door military trials for noncitizens charged with terrorism either abroad or at home. In language of chilling breadth, the order authorizes drumhead tribunals with few rights for the accused, imprisonment and death sentences--not only for present or former members of Al Qaeda but for any noncitizen accused of aiding or abetting "acts of international terrorism, or acts in preparation therefore that have caused, threaten to cause...injury to or adverse effects on the United States, its citizens, national security, foreign policy, or economy." The order is being sold as an expedient means of settling affairs with Osama bin Laden should he be pulled from an Afghan cave, but in language and design it completely removes from the protective penumbra of the Constitution all noncitizens, including those among the more than 1,000 people detained in the United States in the post-September 11 dragnet. And given Ashcroft's announcement that the Justice Department intends to question more than 5,000 foreign-born men who have legally entered the country since January 1, 2000, that number may well grow.

These new measures would be worrisome enough under any circumstances, but their real danger comes from the context of other powers granted the Administration by Congress or seized by presidential fiat in recent weeks--most often at the expense of courts or the press, the usual avenues for scrutiny.

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