The fear factor. In the first domestic terrorism case after the 9/11 attacks, federal prosecutors said a group of Arab immigrants in Dearborn, Mich., were plotting to attack air bases, Disneyland and the New York Times building. In June 2003, they won terrorism convictions against two of the four defendants, prompting Attorney General John Ashcroft to say, “Today’s convictions send a clear message. The Department of Justice will work diligently to detect, disrupt and dismantle the activities of terrorist cells in the United States and abroad.”
This week, the Justice Department sent a message to the federal judge overseeing the appeal of the convictions: drop the terrorism convictions. Like too many cases prosecuted in the heat of that terrible moment, the rights of the accused were trampled with trumped-up charges and the concealment of exculpatory evidence.
As with the case of Sami Omar Al-Hussayen, the former doctoral student at the University of Idaho, the Michigan defendants spent a long time in jail because of their religious views and prosecutorial missteps. That’s not the American way.
Does 14 years qualify as “persistent”? Terri Schiavo, 26, had an eating disorder that caused her heart to stop beating long enough to cause brain damage and leave her in what some doctors say is a persistent vegetative state.
Her husband, believing there was no hope of recovery, attempted to halt artificial life-support systems. She wouldn’t want to live that way, he said. Her parents disagreed. Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and the state’s Legislature got involved.
Did we mention that Terri Schiavo is 40 now and that after 14 years the case is still in the Florida Supreme Court? Justices are questioning the law that Bush used to order resumed force-feeding of the comatose woman.
One lawyer declared that the courts don’t have exclusive domain to protect the rights of the disabled. In cases like this one, it appears no one is protecting the rights of the disabled.