A police state won't protect us

Bush went to Buffalo yesterday to promote the Patriot Act. He chose it because it was the location of the prosecution of the "Lackawanna Six," but that's not a case that provides a convincing argument.

Even now, after the arrests and the anger and the world media spotlight, the mystery for neighbors in this old steel town remains this: Why would six of their young men so readily agree to plead guilty to terror charges, accepting long prison terms far from home?


But defense attorneys say the answer is straightforward: The federal government implicitly threatened to toss the defendants into a secret military prison without trial, where they could languish indefinitely without access to courts or lawyers.

That prospect terrified the men. They accepted prison terms of 61/2 to 9 years.

"We had to worry about the defendants being whisked out of the courtroom and declared enemy combatants if the case started going well for us," said attorney Patrick J. Brown, who defended one of the accused. "So we just ran up the white flag and folded. Most of us wish we'd never been associated with this case."

The Lackawanna case illustrates how the post-Sept. 11, 2001, legal landscape tilts heavily toward the prosecution, government critics contend. Future defendants in terror cases could face the same choice: Plead guilty or face the possibility of indefinite imprisonment or even the death penalty. That troubles defense attorneys and some legal scholars, not least because prosecutors never offered evidence that the Lackawanna defendants intended to commit an act of terrorism.

I bring this up because of the suicide car bomber in Riyadh today.

A suicide car bomber destroyed a Saudi security forces building in the capital Wednesday, killing a senior officer and at least nine other people.

Medical and security sources in Riyadh said more than 60 people were wounded in what an official said was the sixth attempt to mount such a "terrorist attack" in a week. Five others had been foiled.

The blast, which coincided with a visit to the city by a top U.S. official, tore the front off the six-storey administrative block. Saudi television showed uniformed security force personnel in hospital and said some children were also injured.

The kingdom, a key U.S. ally and the world's largest oil exporter, is battling a tide of Islamist militancy linked to Saudi-born Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, which Washington accuses of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on U.S. cities.

Last year, suicide bombs killed 50 people in Riyadh.

If a police state like Saudi Arabia can't prevent attacks with such tactics, what makes people think curtailing our liberties will make us safer?

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This page contains a single entry by published on April 21, 2004 12:04 PM.

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