U.S. Detentions: History Repeating Itself? The Bush administration's rounding up and detention of terror suspects has some historical antecedents — the Palmer Raids of 1919 and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
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U.S. Detentions: History Repeating Itself?

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U.S. Detentions: History Repeating Itself?

U.S. Detentions: History Repeating Itself?

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.

DANIEL SCHORR: I watched Attorney General Michael Mukasey almost squirming in his seat as he fended off questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee about waterboarding as torture.

HANSEN: NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: And I wondered how the administration had gotten itself into this fix. President Bush has presided over actions, playing fast and loose with legality. He has enlisted telecommunications companies into massive wiretapping operations. And now he has to seek retroactive immunity for them.

The administration has rounded up hundreds of terrorism suspects and spirited many of them away to foreign countries for rougher treatment than they might get here. Hundreds more were shipped to Guantanamo Bay, the administration unsure now of what to do with them.

I would suggest that all of this happens when a president is running scared in the face of a perceived threat which he's not sure he knows how to fend off. Civil liberties and privacy may become the first casualties of presidential nervousness.

Something like this has happened before in history. In 1919, after a series of bombings in eight American cities, Attorney General Mitchell Palmer ordered a massive roundup and detention of people suspected of being alien reds. Thousands of mostly Russian and East European immigrants were detained in the so-called Palmer raids, without charges or access to lawyers.

Hundreds were deported. No one responsible for the bombings was ever convicted. After Pearl Harbor in 1941, President Roosevelt signed an executive order authorizing the military to round up some 120,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans and hold them in internment camps for the duration of the war.

None of them was ever convicted of any espionage for Japan, and like the Palmer raids, this remains a stain on America's honor.

So now 9/11, and a sinister new enemy without borders. That could make a president feel that he's lost control. And so now we have a Patriot Act, a Protect America Act, and military tribunals that evade individual rights as a nervous president tries to cope with an unseen peril.

This didn't start on Mukasey's watch. He must also be wondering how the administration could've played so fast and loose with individual rights, but there is no telling what a president will do when he's scared.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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