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Wednesday, June 16, 2004


Saudi’s acquittal a victory for Constitution

Commentary by Pat Murphy

Americans who e-mail outrageous political hate material about their government should thank Saudi Arabian student Sami Omar al-Hussayen for helping guard their First Amendment rights to speak scurrilously of their country.

How ironic—a Saudi acquitted of conspiring to aid terrorists should be more of a champion of free speech than U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, who took an oath to protect the Constitution and implicitly the right to free speech?

Ashcroft should never have ordered al-Hussayen tried in Boise federal court. A student at the University of Idaho, al-Hussayen was found not guilty, having done nothing more than post hate-filled polemics of Muslims on his Web site—much as angry members of U.S. militias use the Internet to threaten to seize the U.S. government or condemn the FBI for its bloody assault on Branch Davidian at Waco.

(Gov. Dirk Kempthorne’s order turning the state Capitol into a sealed-off fortress for months apparently stemmed from fear that al-Hussayen was a terrorist.)

Lawyers, including a former prosecutor, tell me they believe Ashcroft personally ordered al-Hussayen’s trial for political reasons: the beleaguered Ashcroft needed a victory to silence critics and calculated that a jury in good ol’ reliably Republican Idaho would convict a Muslim for spreading anti-U.S. material.

But even Idaho isn’t totally lacking in common sense.

Although Ashcroft is a mediocre legal mind, he’s a menace: a limited understanding of law combined with fierce religious zealotry blinds Ashcroft to jurisprudential decency.

Not surprisingly, it was an Ashcroft Justice Department lawyer, Jay Bybee, who wrote the chilling opinion that Geneva Convention rules for treatment of prisoners can be abandoned and replaced with painful, humiliating, debasing and inhumane torture.

As a reward for sanitizing barbarism, Jay Bybee was confirmed by the Republican U.S. Senate as Judge Bybee, of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where he’s free to wreak more havoc with human rights in a lifetime job.

Ashcroft doesn’t believe terrorism "suspects" deserve constitutional protections: they’ve been thrown in jail, held without charges and denied access to legal counsel because he labels them "enemy combatants." (How many times has the FBI released detainees and apologized for Ashcroft legal blunders?)

Ashcroft’s behavior is precisely what Hitler’s Nazi judges were accused of at the Nuremburg trials after World War II—seizing people on pretexts, jailing them without charges, denying them legal rights and refusing to release them.

Not to forget: Ashcroft made it clear in Senate testimony he believes critics of President Bush’s war on terror provide aid and comfort to the enemy.

If the Saudi student had been convicted in Boise federal court as a terrorism conspirator for disseminating hateful anti-U.S. messages, ponder this bleak sequel:

How long would it have been before Ashcroft would’ve been encouraged to round up "unpatriotic" Americans for spreading their loathing of President Bush, their abhorrence of the war in Iraq and their use of anti-U.S. language because he believes they aid and comfort the enemy and aren’t entitled to First Amendment rights?


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