More information needed on detainees
In the immediate days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, it no doubt seemed reasonable to round up, question and detain residents of Japanese ancestry.
For all anyone knew, some might have felt loyalties to Japan that would cause them to spy or commit sabotage.
As we all now know, the roundup and incarceration of thousands of Japanese Americans was a horrible mistake, a blot on our history and an insult to the Constitution.
The lessons of those days must remain firmly with us as we proceed today with our domestic war on terrorism. The government faces a delicate task, to be sure, but it is a task that must constantly balance the needs of national security with our constitutional and legal traditions.
Close to 700 people have been picked up and detained since the Sept. 11 attacks, some with what appear to be links to terrorist groups or their supporters, and others whose only obvious infraction is perhaps a relatively minor violation of immigration laws.
Lawyers for some of those detained complain that they are being given very little information about their clients. In a few cases, there have been accusations that those detained have been mistreated.
Attorney General John Ashcroft insists there has been no deliberate abuse of those detained and Justice "will respect the constitutional rights and we will respect the dignity of individuals."
Such reassurances are welcome. But for now, we simply have to take him at his word. Little information has come out of the Justice Department about those detained. We do not know precisely how many have been rounded up, where they are being held, what the charges are against them and whether the conditions they face meet Ashcroft's promises.
Obviously, a massive investigation of this sort cannot be mounted without a fair degree of secrecy. But at some point, sunshine is in order.
It is time to release more information about the people detained, their condition and the charges against them. If the government has stayed within constitutional and legal bounds (as we assume it has) it is time to make that case public.