America can’t lose sight of due process

“I think that due process is incredibly important. Due process is a big part of what the country is supposed to stand for.”


Prayers have been said and candlelight vigils have been observed. Now it's time for action. Punishment must be swift and firm, but also logical and rational. National security will necessarily be tightened while civil liberties have to be protected.

With America bracing for war, University of Alaska Anchorage justice professor John Riley hopes the nation doesn't lose the principles of our democracy in dealing with the perpetrators of last week's attacks.

“I think that due process is incredibly important,” Riley said. “Due process is a big part of what the country is supposed to stand for.”

On Sunday, Pakistan gave the government of Afghanistan three days to turn key suspect Osama bin Laden over to United States authorities or face invasion by U.S. forces from Pakistani soil, according to a CNN report. While it seems unlikely bin Laden will turn himself in and America could be in for a long battle, Riley remains concerned about democratic conventions.

“I would like to see due process, not only because I have a sort of general abstract belief in justice,” he said, “but because I think that in the end our practical interests are best served by having processes in place that will slow us down a little bit, cause us to be more thoughtful, help to make sure we get the right people.”

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The Bush Administration is looking for ways to expand legal repercussions for terrorists including rescinding a 1976 law against state-sponsored assassination. This is the type of reaction that has Riley concerned.

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“I think if you're committed to due process for people who commit crimes in the United States, and they flee the Unites States, then you seek extradition and try to try them in U.S. courts,” he said. “If you find that it's impossible to do that, there are world courts.”

With war on the horizon, Americans are finding that many aspects of life will change. New restrictions on air travel will affect the public's travel plans and, consequently, an airline industry already reeling from the attacks and subsequent grounding of domestic flights.

Increased security measures, including the removal of metal silverware from airport restaurants may hinder, but won't eliminate, the presence of weapons on airplanes.

“People get small weapons in maximum security prisons, the best prisons in the United States,” Riley said. “If determined terrorists want to get small weapons on airplanes they'll do it. I think that it's impossible to prevent this kind of thing by keeping the silverware out of the airport.”

For the time being, Americans not directly affected by the attacks can only watch and wait as events unfold. And Riley believes there is no reason for people to get overly cautious.

“I hear people talking about gun sales going up,” he said. “It's silly to think about buying a gun to protect yourself from terrorists. It's very unlikely that any of us would ever have a chance to use a gun, more likely we'd shoot our feet off.”

“So if you want to buy a gun to go caribou hunting I'm all for you,” Riley said. “But if you think you're going to buy a gun to stop terrorism, you should probably think twice.”