Mostly Cloudy
Currently 72

[5-day forecast]
home news business sports entertainment jobs autos real estate
  [Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2001]   

in news

U.S. now might have to consider what once was unthinkable, Dershowitz says

Americans may have to consider ideas as foreign as truth serums and torture warrants when thinking about striking a balance between liberty and security after the terrorist attacks Sept. 11.

That was the message celebrity lawyer and civil libertarian Alan M. Dershowitz delivered to a crowd packed into a gymnasium Sunday at the Jewish Community Center in Creve Coeur. Dershowitz was the opening speaker for the Jewish Book Fair.

He originally was scheduled to talk about his book "Supreme Injustice," a critical account of the Supreme Court's ruling on the presidential election last year. But Dershowitz instead turned his comments to civil liberties.

"I'm not in the mood to start being critical of the legitimacy of the president at a time like this," he said.

Dershowitz said he always supported the philosophy that it was better to let criminals go free than to unjustly detain innocent people. But he suggested that terrorist acts should make civil rights activists readjust their thinking on some issues.

The American Civil Liberties Union nearly revoked his membership for suggesting that national identity cards should be required, he said. The cards would carry basic information - a person's name and Social Security number - and a picture, he proposed.

Law enforcement officials and security workers could request to see the cards to verify the identity of a person at any time, he said. The civil libertarians are opposed to such a measure because they say it would violate the right to privacy.

Dershowitz counters that the measure does not violate privacy rights but does take away a guarantee of anonymity that terrorists have used to their advantage.

It's time to reassess laws and decide how to deal with situations that may arise when dealing with terrorists, he said. Legislators should evaluate and revise quarantine laws before a wholesale bioterrorism attack strikes the United States, he said, calling the current anthrax attacks "retail bioterrorism."

Americans need to consider what measures should be allowed to get information from unwilling terror suspects, he said. After law enforcement officials have asked, begged, cajoled, threatened and bribed a close-mouthed witness, they may need to take more drastic measures to elicit vital information, Dershowitz said.

Americans should begin thinking about whether it would be permissible to grant the suspect immunity from prosecution and then administer truth serum.

Even torture may not be off the table as an information-gathering tool, Dershowitz said. But there must be a national debate about the circumstances in which torture is permissible and who should have the power to decide when to use it. Dershowitz suggested that judges could issue torture warrants in certain cases.

Americans must plan their approach to these disquieting issues carefully and not allow the basic values of the country to erode, he said.

"If Osama bin Laden comes out with a white flag, we'd darned well better arrest him. We're still a country under the rule of law," Dershowitz said.

Dershowitz, a professor from Harvard who has been called the lawyer of last resort, said that even he wouldn't take bin Laden's case.

"That's not a call I want to get."


E-mail this Story to a friend

ap wires
special reports
news of the weird
funeral notices