- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 4, 2000

Columnist confused on constitutional amendment

Debra Saunders writes that she "support[s] crime victims' rights, and the stated goals" of the crime victims' rights constitutional amendment. Nevertheless, she opposes the amendment ("Constitutional Pandora's box," Commentary, May 2).

First, and perhaps most troubling, is Miss Saunders' claim that being a crime victim is "a badge of honor." Tell that to a mother whose daughter was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing or to a young woman raped and left to die on a rural road. A badge of honor? Nothing could be further from the truth.

Second, Miss Saunders claims that the amendment "could make life harder for prosecutors." It is curious, then, that three-fourths of the state attorneys general recently signed a letter in strong support of the amendment, as have former U.S. Attorneys General William Barr, Edwin Meese and Dick Thornburgh. Additionally, Attorney General Janet Reno has testified that "a victims' rights amendment would benefit not only crime victims but also law enforcement."

Third, as part of her argument, Miss Saunders expresses concern that crime victims would have the right "to be present" and that, therefore, "indigent victims would have a right to publicly funded legal representation." This is incorrect. Victims do not have a right "to be present." As the Senate Judiciary Committee report makes clear, the amendment was drafted carefully so that the right conferred is a negative one a right "not to be excluded" "to avoid the suggestion that an alternative formulation … might carry with it some government obligation to provide funding."

Finally, Miss Saunders is right about one thing: A constitutional amendment does carry a great deal of force. This is one of the reasons why a constitutional amendment is needed. Two decades of experience has shown that state statutes and amendments are inadequate. For example, the National Institute of Justice has found that under even the best state protections, fewer than 60 percent of the victims were notified of the sentencing hearing and fewer than 40 percent were notified of the pretrial release of the defendant. This is why three-fourths of the state attorneys general recently wrote, "[S]tatutory protections are not enough; only a federal constitutional amendment will be sufficient to change the culture of our legal system."

JON KYL

U.S. Senate

Washington

Methodist church founded in England

The Washington Times needed to look at the history of the Methodist Church before printing "Methodists eye homosexual issues, global restructuring" (May 1).

Methodism did not, as was stated in the article, originate in the United States. It was founded by Englishman John Wesley in 1739 and has its roots in the London Society. The General Rules of the church were written in 1743, and Methodism's first conference was held on June 25, 1744, in England. Twenty-five years later, at its 1769 conference, the church called for volunteers to serve in America.

The first U.S. conference of Methodism was held in 1773. On Christmas 1784, at Lovely Lane Chapel in Baltimore, the American brethren confirmed the edicts of Wesley, accepted Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury as bishops in America and formed the Methodist Episcopal Church (some 40 years after the original conference in England).

Thanks for the opportunity to set the record straight.

CHARLES D. COOPER

Springfield

The controversy over air bags continues

Thank you for your April 21 editorial justly critical of air bags, "Death by safety experts."

Joan Claybrook, the former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), recently admitted that NHTSA has made misleading claims about the safety of air bags that have harmed its credibility with the public. Yet, rather than reconsider the air-bag requirement, NHTSA seems hellbent on the dumb idea of foisting so-called "smarter" air bags on us. It appears, at the least, that it is going to take a change of administration to persuade NHTSA to reconsider this ill-considered mandate. Congress needs to become involved on this issue.

Though I am no advocate of legislation by litigation, I must confess a certain disappointment that lawsuits have not been allowed here (because the bags are government-mandated). With the number of people killed and the thousands injured so far by these "safety" devices, megabuck jury awards long since would have forced the recall of these baleful bags.

The public should instead use their seat belts. NHTSA should stop trying to protect people from themselves with dangerous, defective technology that could kill or grievously hurt them, especially if their seat belts are unbuckled.

RUSSELL A. BERGER

Wheaton

Egypt defends travel ban on a former police colonel

We refer to your article "Ex-policeman: False charges won't silence me" (World, April 21), in which you claim that Egypt "has imposed a travel ban on a former police colonel who accuses the government of allowing torture in prisons and other human rights abuses."

For the sake of accuracy, we would like to clarify the circumstances related to this ban:

On Oct. 6, 1997, the former police officer Mohammed Abul-Fateh El-Gannam, accompanied by his brother Maj. Ali Abul-Fateh El-Gannam, a retired police pharmacist, headed for the clinic of Dr. Mohammed Ahmed Shaban, a former physician at the Police Medical Services department and currently associate professor at Menofia University. Both fired several shots at him, suspecting negligence on his part in attending to the medical needs of their late father, who had been hospitalized at the police hospital but had passed away on Sept. 11, 1997.

The General Prosecution Department in charge of the investigation decided to remand both suspects in custody for four days. They later were released on bail of 5,000 Egyptian pounds each. Both suspects were referred to the criminal court, charged with attempted murder.

The prosecutor-general issued a travel ban against the former police officer on April 21, 1999. In accordance with the law, suspects on trial are banned from traveling abroad.

On June 6, 1999, Mr. El-Gannam fired several shots, using an unlicensed pistol, at Mahmoud Abdallah Emran, a real estate tax inspector, over a land dispute, wounding Mr. Emran's left leg. Again, he was remanded in custody and later released pending referral to court.

It is obvious that the travel ban imposed on the former police officer was issued by competent legal authorities and has no political connotations whatsoever.

The former police officer's claims of premeditated attempts to silence him are but a cover-up for his illegal acts and violations of the law. The issue here, contrary to his claims, is not one of freedom of expression or opinion, but of a legal procedure that has to be respected.

No one should take the law into his own hands. Hence the credibility of an individual bent on settling personal disputes once with a physician and another time with a real-estate inspector through use of a gun is, and should be, in question.

If Mr. El-Gannam, as he claims, has information on abuses of human rights in Egypt, he can and should submit such information to the competent authorities, including the judiciary.

We take pride in the fact that our judiciary system is independent and its proceedings and rulings should be respected by all law-abiding citizens.

NABIL OSMAN

Chairman

Egyptian State Information Service

Cairo

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