Monday, January 13, 2003

Internment-camp redux

First, here's an excellent FindLaw piece regarding the whole "enemy combatant" issue vis a vis the Supreme Court rulings of 1943-44 on the internment, and the associated Constitutional issues:

Do Hamda and Padilla need company?

Also, here's an excerpt from a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Roger Daniels, who is probably the nation's premier historian on the internment. It ran Feb. 15, 2002 and was titled "Detaining Minority Citizens, Then and Now":

Today, we once again read about the detention of resident aliens for questioning; about plans to bypass normal legal procedures and create military tribunals to try "any individual who is not a United States citizen"; about federal requests to colleges and universities for the names of all foreign students. But when compared with what was done to Japanese Americans during World War II, government actions before and after September 11 do not seem to amount to very much. Indeed, many media commentators have objected that even to mention them in connection with the massive violations of civil liberties by the Roosevelt administration is inappropriate.

That is an evasion: the kind of evasion that has allowed us to offer apologies for the actions we have taken against those whom we perceive to be outsiders, and then do the same thing to a different group. Time and again, scholars (if not the government) have eventually acknowledged that we, as a nation, have violated the spirit of our Constitution. Time and again, we have gone on to violate it again.

Moreover, private groups like airlines have forced citizens and aliens who look like the "enemy" to leave flights for which they had tickets -- sometimes even winning praise for doing so. "I was relieved at the story of the plane passengers a few weeks ago who refused to board if some Mideastern-looking guys were allowed to board," Peggy Noonan, a contributing editor, wrote in The Wall Street Journal. "I think we're going to require a lot of patience from a lot of innocent people. ... And you know, I don't think that's asking too much."

Optimists assure us that a mass incarceration of American citizens in concentration camps will not recur. But reflection on our past suggests we ought not to be so sanguine. To be sure, it was not just the disaster at Pearl Harbor, but the subsequent sequence of Japanese triumphs that triggered Executive Order 9066. But shouldn't we then ask, If successful terrorist attacks hadn't abated after September 11, would the current government reaction have been so moderate?

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