Judge right to rule secret arrests don't belong in democracy

Posted: Wednesday, August 14, 2002

A federal judge in Washington had no hesitation last week in ordering the Justice Department to reveal the names of almost 1,200 people it jailed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

''Secret arrests are 'a concept odious to a democratic society,' and profoundly antithetical to the bedrock values that characterize a free and open one such as ours,'' said U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler, quoting an earlier ruling in her own decision.

Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft should let the matter rest there. ...

Lawyers with two dozen human rights and civil liberties groups filed the Freedom of Information Act challenge late last year after the Justice Department rebuffed request after request to say whom it had rounded up and why, and where it had jailed these men and women.

The department insisted -- and continues to insist -- that secrecy was necessary to keep information from Osama bin Laden and other terrorists still at large. If terrorists don't know who's in jail, such logic goes, they can't know what the government knows about their plans for attacks.

Kessler, like most people who care about civil liberties, didn't buy that argument. ... She said she would consider requests to keep some names under wraps if prosecutors could demonstrate that a detainee had knowledge of a terrorist conspiracy...

Right after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, it was impossible to know what else terrorists might be planning. There was an understandable impulse to cast a broad net for people and information. But the post-Sept. 11 emergency does not justify long-term changes that would snuff out the light and openness that distinguish our democracy from the tyrannies that would destroy it.

-- Los Angeles Times

Aug. 6

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