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Jewish World Review Oct. 8, 2001 / 21 Tishrei 5762

Morton Kondracke

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Anti-terrorist tactics far short of 'police state' -- A SAN ANTONIO radiologist, Dr. Al-Badr Al-Hazmi, was held incommunicado as a material witness for two weeks by the federal government after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Did he complain that America is a "police state?"

No, but the Rev. Jesse Jackson did. And some civil libertarians and media outlets have compared the government's detention of some 500 persons since Sept. 11 with the World War II internment of Japanese-Americans.

It's time to get real. The country is under attack from a worldwide terrorist network that authorities must prevent from killing thousands of other people.

There must be an upgraded security response, and with that some mistaken detentions are inevitable. Some ethnic profiling (official or not) will occur, and the FBI must question persons in Arab-American and Islamic communities.

The government temporarily needs broader authority to wiretap phones, monitor computers, track and detain immigrants, control the nation's borders and obtain intelligence -- even from secret grand jury proceedings.

The Bush administration undoubtedly went too far with its initial counterterrorist proposal to Congress, but its agreement to alter the legislation proves that the government is not out to twist the Constitution out of shape.

After bipartisan complaints, Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and John Conyers, D-Mich., worked out a compromise that would sunset new provisions at two years and limit detention of immigrants for seven days before formal charges must be leveled. The Senate and the White House are working on a package that relies on court supervision of most new government intrusions, but they are hung up on the grand jury issue.

It stands to reason that if a grand jury develops information about a plot to carry out a terrorist act, it should be transmitted to the FBI forthwith -- with court approval.

In the meantime, there have been intolerable incidents of hate crimes -- including at least two murders -- against Sikhs and Arab-Americans, and other innocent people, such as Al-Hazmi, have been wrongly detained.

But the media, civil libertarians and some immigrant communities have treated such incidents as part of a national program of hate and reprisal. Nothing of the kind is going on.

From President Bush on down, every effort has been made to assure Arab-Americans and Muslims that "war: has not been declared on them.

Al-Hamzi, an immigrant from Saudi Arabia, interpreted the message correctly, as did the spokesman for the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee in San Antonio. This cannot be said of Jesse Jackson or the American Civil Liberties Union.

The FBI apparently took Al-Hamzi into custody because his credit card number was stolen by one of the Sept. 11 terrorists. The authorities thought -- and the media speculated -- that he had given them financial support.

He was taken to New York and questioned, then released. Last week, upon returning home, he said, "Let us be tolerant of each other and work together and be united and learn not to hate. What happened on Sept. 11 has nothing to do with any religion, and it has nothing to do with Islam."

The San Antonio Express-News quoted Al-Hazmi as saying, "For anybody who accused me without knowing the facts, I forgive them because they did not know."

Similarly, Mohsen Jouini of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee said the attacks required authorities "to be more vigilant than ever before."

"If Al-Hazmi was questioned and inconvenienced, I'm sorry about that," he said, "but the authorities must do everything possible to find out who committed these acts."

This attitude is in marked contrast to that of the director of the Texas ACLU, who said that Al-Hazmi is "not the first, and will not be the last, victim of an aggressive, irrational law enforcement pattern that's developed."

According to Insight magazine and Fox News, Jackson declared at a Sept. 15 Operation PUSH meeting, "A police state is closing in (with) the suspension of civil liberties" by the Bush administration.

On Sept. 24, The New York Times carried a story headlined "War on Terrorism Stirs Memory of Internment," which cited a few legal scholars as saying that it is possible that Arab-Americans could be rounded up the way Japanese-Americans were in 1941.

That's ridiculous. More than 110,000 Japanese-Americans were held for two years after Pearl Harbor under an executive order signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Nothing of the kind will ever happen again. Look around: This is a different country, and we're all in this fight together.

JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments by clicking here.

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