- The Washington Times - Monday, January 28, 2002

Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, usually a cautious jurist, says there was "no excuse" for the September 11 terrorist attacks, rebuffing claims by academic defenders of al Qaeda terrorists.
There was no moral justification for flying hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center, he said during an unprecedented conversation with a handful of reporters Friday in the Supreme Court pressroom.
"There's no excuse for this. … Moral relativism does not reach that far," the justice said. "I have no fear of saying there is no moral justification for this attack."
Suspected terrorists in U.S. custody face trials as "unlawful combatants," in which the laws of war would be a central issue.
"It's not jingoistic to know that the [September 11] attack was wrong," Justice Kennedy said.
So public a stance is rare for Justice Kennedy, who is far and away the most agreeable justice, going along with the majority in 93 percent of court decisions and carefully keeping private his own views as he prepares a speech for a legal conference next week in Philadelphia.
"It's hard to make these speeches when you can't talk about what you're doing," he said.
Personal turmoil including fears for his children and grandchildren in lower Manhattan in the first hours of the attack on the World Trade Center was front and center as he explained the inspiration for the educational program he will introduce this morning.
He said his son Justin, who works for a bond company in New York, telephoned and told him to turn on the television, saying, "It's the worst thing that ever happened."
He was watching TV with his law clerks when his chambers' west windows were shaken by the explosion of the third airliner crashing into the Pentagon.
Today, Justice Kennedy will be joined at Washington's School Without Walls Senior High School by first lady Laura Bush and American Bar Association President Robert E. Hirshon, whose organization will bring together judges and high school students to examine American values.
The Dialogue on Freedom project is not fully formed yet, he said, but he says it will "recognize there are explanation and causes for what happens, not excuses."
It stems in part from questions put to Justice Kennedy by university students in Beijing in October during his annual teaching visit to China.
The Chinese students raised contentious questions about how the United States could be sure the September 11 attack was directed by Osama bin Laden. He said the students felt the U.S. "got our comeuppance … showing us we have to take our lumps once in a while, too."
It came much closer to home when he read of similar sentiments on the campus of Yale University and at an Islamic school in Potomac.
"I thought, 'If that was happening in Maryland, what must be happening in Cairo?'" he said.
Justice Kennedy said he hopes Dialogue on Freedom will be a new way to offer democracy to the world by focusing on universal rights.
"Universal rights implies a certain respect for each person and his or her beliefs," Justice Kennedy said.
"I thought this was an attack on the rule of law and there should be a response in legal terms," he said. "It would be irresponsible to have no response at all."
Also behind the initiative were misgivings Justice Kennedy had about scant U.S. press attention and government response to mass slaughter in Rwanda after the April 6, 1994, assassination of Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana.
Official inquiries say genocidal retaliatory attacks by Hutus killed at least a half million, "and more likely 800,000" Tutsi in the next 100 days.
"[The Rwandan genocide] was more efficient than Hitler's operation, and it got barely a yawn," said Justice Kennedy, who added that reactions are different "when it happens to you."
When asked what the long-term impact of the attack would be, Justice Kennedy said, "The people who live at the time of historical change are probably not good judges."
He visited his two sons' New York apartments since September 11 one son lives just three blocks from ground zero but has no desire to see the yawning pit where the twin towers once stood.
"I don't want to," he said.

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