Military tribunals were last utilized in the 1940s. But it is not enough to say that that amounts to a precedent justifying these new actions. Just as we have rejected slavery, once an "honored tradition" in parts of our nation, and just as we would now reject placing innocent Japanese Americans in internment camps, we should reject military-style tribunals for noncitizens accused of terrorism. Moreover, our notions of what constitutes fairness have evolved over the last 56 years to provide greater due-process protection to the accused.

It is crucially important for Americans to question the policies of the executive branch of government when it undertakes unilateral repressive acts in response to the horrific events of 9-11. These times require us to be vigilant, thoughtful, and outspoken to insure that our values are not undermined. We need not choose between fairness and security. We can and must have both. We can and must hold our government accountable when it fails to defend both of those values with equal vigor.

Twenty-five years from now, historians and others will ask us what we said and did when President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft proposed the use of military tribunals. I hope each of us will be able to say we stood tall, spoke loud, and said, "NO." And I hope we will be able to say that our protests insured that the government adhered to the American principle of fundamental fairness during its campaign to stop terrorism in the early 21st century.

Illustration by Luba Lukova


Norman Siegel is a civil rights and civil liberties lawyer.

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