As I watch such liberal leading lights as Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy denounce President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft for detaining certain aliens to stem future terrorist atrocities against Americans, and hear them rail against the constitutionality of reinstituting military commissions to bring terrorist murderers to justice, I have to wonder: Would their views be different if their hero, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, were president today?
Left-leaning historians have occasionally ranked our presidents, and FDR always polls among the top. Yet if civil liberties are as precious to liberals as they claim, FDR's high status is certainly unwarranted.
One issue that has Leahy out of sorts is the administration's detention of 1,000 or so aliens. Ashcroft's problem is that the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the FBI have been unable to effectively track aliens who have violated their visas, have criminal records or have links to terrorist networks. Thus, in the aftermath of Sept. 11, the Justice Department, in short order, has had to determine the extent to which such aliens are in this country and pose a serious threat.
The Bush administration's detention program seems reasonable in its scope and purpose. In contrast, FDR's World War II internment of nearly 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, including 70,000 U.S. citizens, was an outrage. I suppose if Bush were to follow in FDR's footsteps, he could have signed an executive order to round up Muslim Americans and force them into detention camps.
Leahy, joined by some conservatives, has also condemned Bush's Nov. 13 order reestablishing military commissions. The critics make two primary charges: that military commissions threaten liberties set forth in the Bill of Rights, and that our civil courts are quite capable of handling these trials.
Bill of Rights: Bush's order applies to any individual who "is or was a member of the organization known as al Qaeda; has engaged in, aided or abetted, or conspired to commit acts of international terrorism, or acts in preparation therefore, that have caused, threaten to cause or have as their aim to cause, injury to or adverse effects on the United States, its citizens, national security, foreign policy, or economy; has knowingly harbored one or more individuals described" herein. The order in no way covers U.S. citizens or aliens not associated with al-Qaida. It's hard to see how this violates the Bill of Rights.
Once again, the Democrats' favorite president helped blaze this trail. In 1942 the Supreme Court ruled that Roosevelt's military commissions were constitutional when used to try eight Nazi saboteurs for violating the laws of war, spying and conspiracy. The lawyers who drafted Bush's order no doubt relied on FDR's court victory in that case -- an irony obviously lost on Bush's critics.
Civil Courts: Al-Qaida terrorists are not criminals as generally understood but military combatants. Significant obstacles block their prosecution in American civil courts.
People in and around courtrooms, including judges, juries and court employees, would have every reason to fear for their safety. The enormous resources needed to protect potentially hundreds if not thousands of these terrorists would strain an overloaded justice system. The government would be required to reveal secret intelligence information and techniques in open court, and our courtrooms would most likely be turned into forums for propagandizing and encouraging further terrorist acts.
(Limbaugh hosts a nationally broadcast radio talk show.)
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