Amid the glare of a news conference last Thursday, Attorney General John
Ashcroft trumpeted the opening of the government’s latest terrorism
prosecution, the indictment of two men for financially aiding Islamic
groups that support terrorists.

A few days earlier, with no fanfare, another major terrorism case, this one
brought by military authorities, came to an end. Army Capt. James Yee –
accused just a year ago as the “big fish” in a spy ring intent on helping
al-Qaeda – learned that he would get an honorable military discharge. The
designation offered symbolic exoneration. Months earlier, the criminal
charges were dropped.

The juxtaposition of the two cases illustrates a trend in the Bush
administration’s domestic war on terrorism: Too many major prosecutions
open with a bang but end with a whimper.

In recent months, several high-profile Justice Department or military cases
have collapsed – but not before they damaged lives, trampled constitutional
rights and squandered resources that could have been focused on real threats.

The common thread is that authorities, fixated on preventing terrorism at
any cost, ignored or avoided evidence that might have disproved their
theories. Such zealous pursuits undermine the very values that terrorists
are seeking to destroy – individual rights and the rule of law


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