Justice Department Decision to Forgo Tribunal Bypasses Pentagon. Top Pentagon officials said today that they were not consulted by Attorney General John Ashcroft in his decision to go to federal court rather than seek a military tribunal to try Zacarias Massaoui…;
Sometimes fear steps decisively in our path and causes a kind of civil war. Mr. Ashcroft, the Attorney General, perhaps represents a more understandable, reasonable if you will, reaction to fear than Senator Joseph McCarthy ever did. After all, in the 50s all McCarthy had for evidence were papers in a pumpkin patch while Ashcroft has the total destruction of the World Trade Center. But many of the arguments and motivations are the same now as they were in the 50s (and the 20s!) with the Big Red Scare. Those fears are with us in times of relative tranquillity, like the fifties, or the chaos of the present century.
It is not a small question. In order to provide for the public defense, how far do we go in circumscribing Constitutional freedom? In the present case the debate has been pointed, spirited and civil. Even the decision of the Justice Department to forgo a tribunal for the first suspected terrorist in the New York and Washington bombings is a cautious one. The decision makes tacit obeisance to the other side of the argument, while preserving the Department’s ability to hold tribunals if it sees fit and when it decides how those trials should be conducted. The atmosphere of the argument is a world away from McCarthy’s egocentric arena.
It remains to be seen how the Devil will handle the details.
©2001, Janet Taliaferro