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Updated 11:30 AM October 27, 2003



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War on terrorism has 'historical echoes,' legal expert says

After the end of World War I mail bombs were sent to prominent government officials, leading to massive anticommunist raids. Foreign nationals were detained during this era, the country's first Red Scare, and many were ordered deported in spite of the fact that they hadn't played a role in the bombings.

Cole (Photo by Rhoda Baer)

Sound familiar? It does to David Cole, a professor of law at the Georgetown University Law Center who delivered the Faculty Senate's Davis, Markert, Nickerson Lecture on Academic and Intellectual Freedom Oct. 20.

"We've seen many troubling historical echoes" since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, said Cole, a critic of the Patriot Act and author of the new book, "Enemy Aliens: Double Standards and Constitutional Freedoms in the War on Terrorism." He also litigates First Amendment and other constitutional issues as a volunteer staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Citizens have not been asked to give up liberties during the war on terrorism; instead, the government has sacrificed the liberties of foreign nationals, he said. "That's an easy way to strike the balance if you're a politician," he said, "because foreign nationals don't vote."

More than 5,000 foreign nationals have been detained since the attacks, he said. The process operates under a presumption that the detainees are guilty, he noted, adding that only two have been convicted of terrorism-related charges.

"Because the victims were foreign nationals, people have largely stood silently by," Cole said to the standing-room-only audience at the Law School. He warned that "what the government does to foreign nationals virtually always gets extended to citizens. If history is any guide, it will not stop here."

Cole denounced what he called the largest undertaking of ethnic profiling by the government since the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. He condemned the holding of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which many groups have criticized because prisoners have been held for as long as two years without access to attorneys and without charges.

Cole said it is imperative for universities and other "institutions of people" to stand up for academic freedom and other rights, particularly during times of crisis. Records on this front are mixed, he said, noting times when presidents of universities have banned communists from teaching.

More recently, though, there have been some encouraging signs, he said. One of those was the widespread criticism of a Web site that listed "unpatriotic" professors at universities.

Universities play an important role at times like this, he said, by providing a place where the exchange of ideas between citizens and foreign nationals can occur because of the large numbers of international students, faculty and staff on campuses.

The annual speech, now in its 13th year, is named for three U-M professors who were suspended in 1955 for refusing to give testimony during a visit to Michigan by the U.S. House Committee on Un-American Activities. Professors H. Chandler Davis and Mark Nickerson—a tenured faculty member—were terminated, and Professor Clement Markert was reinstated.

Davis, the surviving member of the trio, attended the speech. The mathematician is a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto.

The speech was sponsored by the Academic Freedom Lecture Fund; the American Association of University Professors U-M-Ann Arbor Chapter; the Law School; the Office of the President; the Office of the Vice President for Communications; the Office of the General Counsel; the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs; the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Fund of Michigan; the ACLU of Michigan—Washtenaw Branch; and the ACLU of U-M.

President Mary Sue Coleman made introductory remarks, as did Dr. Charles Koopmann Jr., chairman of the Faculty Senate, and Peggie Hollingsworth, president of the Academic Freedom Lecture Fund.

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