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Ashcroft's legal terrorism

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Nobody, least of all me, would challenge the claim that Sept. 11 was the most eventful day of the year. But could we possibly be going a tad overboard by constantly acting as though it were the most decisive event in world history?

You cannot take in 10 minutes of broadcast news anywhere without hearing some matter-of-fact assertion that “Sept. 11 changed everything.”

Well, without minimizing for a minute the destruction or the significance or the human toll — it didn’t. Today, a few blocks from ground zero, New Yorkers are going about their daily lives, shopping and meeting for lunch.

This wasn’t Hiroshima, comrades. Nor was it the fall of the Soviet Union, which may have been the most significant event in many of our lives, even though the media has always made curiously little of it. What’s more, it isn’t clear that Al Qaeda is nearly as powerful a force for evil as we continuously have been told.

Let’s assume our government is right, and that Osama bin Laden and his network did plan and carry out the four hijackings Sept. 11. The result was the single most destructive, and possibly most brilliant, act of terrorism in modern history.

Yet what have the famous evildoers done since? For the last two months our military has been pounding Afghanistan. As I write this, the Taliban seems to be all but conquered and a great part of Al Qaeda’s strength, including some of its key leaders, have been killed or captured. Wouldn’t you expect them to have struck us again? Wouldn’t you think — if they have as many tentacles as U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and others want us to believe — that Al Qaeda’s minions in America would at least be pulling off some last-ditch, desperate efforts at mayhem? Ramming a car bomb into a shopping mall or machine-gunning a crowded street?

That they haven’t says to me that … they can’t. Remember: So far, the most technologically sophisticated personal weapon they’ve used is a box cutter. Washington doesn’t have any idea whether Al Qaeda is responsible for the four anthrax letters. Most experts don’t think so. But even if they were, there evidently hasn’t been one mailed since Sept. 18, suggesting what small stockpile of spores someone had has run out.

That isn’t to say that more terrorist acts won’t happen. But we need to get a grip, and to realize there are lots of things scarier than Al Qaeda. Like losing our rights and freedoms. Which brings us to Ayatollah Ashcroft. His latest threat of legal terrorism came only Sunday, when he warned that religious or political groups could be monitored by agents if they are suspected of engaging in terrorism. (Hey — why didn’t Richard Nixon and the guys bugging the Watergate think of that!!!)

Ashcroft showed just how alien the American concept of justice is to him during an interview with Fox News, in which he refused to rule out military tribunals, not only for terrorists captured abroad, but for any foreigners detained on U.S. soil.

“Can you imagine apprehending a terrorist, either in the deserts of Afghanistan or on the way to the United States to commit a crime, and having to take them through the traditional justice system?” he sneered. Well, yes, Johnny, that’s what justice is. Hello!

Not so for Ayatollah Ashcroft, who continued, voice dripping with sarcasm. “Reading them the Miranda rights? Hiring a flamboyant lawyer at public expense? Having sort of Osama television ... allowing that kind of propaganda to go out, jeopardizing American assets in the intelligence community and in the war?”

Nasty, my precious, as Gollum would say in The Lord of the Rings. Giving filthy foreigners rights. The idea. Ashcroft would clearly be more comfortable with a society where anybody who the ruling group feels is a threat can be dragged before a drumhead court-martial and shot. The mystery is why Gen. Johnny wants to stop with noncitizens. (Assuming he does.) Look at the money the legal system could save!

Speaking of being shot … Here are three remarkable and very similar numbers: A) 3,899 B) 3,913 C) 3,971. What are they? A is the latest estimate of how many people died in the World Trade Center attack, 19 of whom were suicide terrorists. B is the number of Japanese kamikaze pilots, the original suicide bombers, who died trying to blow ships and buildings up in World War II.

The last, largest figure is the number of U.S. children killed by handguns in this country between 1995 and 1999. That figure was forwarded to me by Marj Levin, president of Michigan Citizens for Handgun Control.

There is a big difference between the murdered children and the others. We could have prevented most of the kids’ deaths, had we been willing to force our legislators to stand up to the gun-nut lobby.

And the toll of dead kids in Michigan will almost certainly increase, thanks to the new law which allows virtually anyone to carry a concealed weapon. Worse, the state Supreme Court prevented a popular vote on the bill. (Bet you thought you had to be on the U.S. Supreme Court to help sabotage democracy.)

Yet we can still do something about this. Citizens for Handgun Control has had a difficult time gaining support since the terrorist strikes. But trust me: Handguns will do no good whatsoever against hijacked airplanes and are less than useless against anthrax.

They are, however, terrifyingly deadly if little Albert or Kenisha finds one in daddy’s dresser drawer. If you want to help fight a sort of terror we can do something about, contact Handgun Control’s office at 801 S. Adams Rd., Birmingham 48009, or call 248-540-6868. Right now would be good. Two more kids will be dead tomorrow.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com

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