- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 8, 2001

The same Spanish judge who had the gall to demand that Chile turn over a former head of state for trial on human rights charges is now telling the United States to go fly a kite with its effort to extradite a suspected al Qaeda operative.

Any country that threatens to use a military tribunal to try a suspect, declared the judge, doesn't deserve to have its extradition rights taken seriously. Never mind that you would be lucky to get a trial of any sort in Spain until fairly recently. Apparently Spain is now qualified to pass judgment of American rights of due process.

Maybe the Spanish judge has been reading too many U.S. newspapers. Even in my hometown, Detroit, stories and protests about "racial profiling" and purported civil liberties infringements are working to constrain common-sense and perfectly legal efforts to head off the possibility of new terror attacks. Detroit's new U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Collins appears to have bowed to the pressure.

Mr. Collins has declined to send agents into the field to interview 566 visa-holders, as every other jurisdiction is doing. Instead he has sent letters "inviting" the interviewees to call his office for an appointment. The letter carefully explained that they weren't suspected of any terrorist activity, could decline the interview and could even request the identity of the agents and departments who would do the interviewing.

The reason for this kinder, gentler approach is clear. Detroit is home to one of the biggest Arab-American and Muslim communities outside the Middle East. Mr. Collins thinks he is likely to get better cooperation by working with that community rather than ignoring its sensitivities. "We wanted to make the process as non-intrusive as possible," says his chief assistant, Alan Gershel. "We are getting good support from the Arab-American community."

Perhaps. But as of late last week, only 10 people had called for their interviews. The kinder, gentler approach doesn't seem to be working very well. Some no doubt fear being turned over to the Immigration and Naturalization Service for simple "visa status" violations. Others may simply be resentful of being singled out at all. And others no doubt are getting a good laugh out of Mr. Collins' strategy.

But Mr. Collins isn't likely to win much credit from other Americans either. A poll by ABC and The Washington Post poll last month showed that 79 percent of Americans backed the Justice Department's effort to interview up to 5,000 young male visa-holders of Middle Eastern background. And despite the hysteria among civil liberties types, nearly 60 percent of the poll respondents also favored the option of using military tribunals to try aliens accused of terrorist acts even when it's explained there would be no right of appeal.

It's not that Americans don't value their civil liberties. But they clearly see the need to tighten up on internal security. The Justice Department has repeatedly warned of "credible" if vague reports of more terrorist plots nationwide. And for several years now, a terrorist task force of federal, state and local law enforcement authorities has been operating in, among a few other places, the Detroit area. Presumably that's because the area is viewed as high-risk.

As well it should be. On Sept. 10, the day before the Twin Towers came down, a man described as a resident of Detroit and Beirut was even convicted of acquiring and shipping arms to Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed terrorist group widely believed to have been behind the slaughter of 279 Marines in Lebanon in 1983. The conviction earned almost no attention unlike lavish space given to the man's indictment, which local civil rights groups claimed was part of an unfair plot to get people of Middle Eastern descent.

That a few Arab-Americans might sympathize with or even support the goals of Middle Eastern radicals doesn't mean Arab-Americans generally support terrorism, much less the wanton killing of other Americans. Several Arab-American groups have been quietly cooperating with the anti-terror task force in Detroit, aware of their community's stake in being seen as just as patriotic as the next guy.

But we aren't talking here about a dragnet against American citizens. We are talking about an effort to interview people who are here by sufferance of the American government and who just might be able to shed some light on the killing of more than 4,000 Americans. This may not seem like a very efficient means of gaining information, but does anybody have a better idea that can be implemented as quickly?

Moreover, considering that the suicide attackers themselves used visas to gain access to the United States, a little extra scrutiny of foreign guests from certain parts of the world seems fully justified. The alternative is to either ignore the potential threat altogether, stop issuing visas or broaden the interviewing to unworkable proportions.

If the strategy of Detroit's U.S. attorney doesn't work, he hasn't ruled out the possibility of knocking on doors. But it's testimony to the power of political correctness that he didn't do so in the first place. And if Americans don't have more trust in their law-enforcement agencies, why should Spain?

Tom Bray is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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