Rights a Victim of Terror War, U.S. Judge Says

Times Staff Writer

U.S. Circuit Judge A. Wallace Tashima expressed skepticism Saturday that the Bush administration’s war on terror can succeed without trampling the civil rights of citizens.

“The war on terrorism threatens to destroy the very values of a democratic society governed by the rule of law,” Tashima told a conference at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles.

A detainee at an internment camp near Parker, Ariz., during World War II, Tashima, 70, said that he feared history could repeat itself unless courts intervene. “It’s happening all over again,” he said, blaming the federal courts for failing to assert themselves during that war.

His comments came during a conference on the legacy of civil rights cases challenging the internments during World War II.


Tashima, who was nominated to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals by President Clinton, said he was troubled by the hundreds of people who have been “arrested and detained against whom no charges have been filed and whose identities have not been [revealed].”

He also criticized the federal government for interrogating people based solely on race and for searching Internet, library and university records of others without probable cause under the USA Patriot Act.

Tashima was one of about 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry who were imprisoned in West Coast relocation camps during the war. Many living in Southern California ended up at the Manzanar camp about 220 miles north of Los Angeles in the Owens Valley.

In early challenges to the internment camps and related matters, the federal courts sided with President Roosevelt and found the detainment of citizens to be constitutional. Many legal scholars today consider those decisions flawed, and a 1983 congressional report said the camps were unnecessary.

Other federal judges have criticized the current war on terror. On Oct. 20, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly issued an opinion that the Bush administration was continuing to thwart an earlier U.S. Supreme Court decision that would allow 600 detainees at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to meet privately with their attorneys.

Conference attendee Wilbur Soto, 75, of Torrance said he agreed with Tashima concerning possible rights violations. Soto had been imprisoned at Manzanar between 1942 and 1944.

“A lot of people now are governed by fear. There are friends of mine who say racial prejudice can be justified,” he said. “They really believe it. It’s scary the way things are going. But I think people are going to be outraged sooner or later.”

John Q. Barrett, a professor of law at St. John’s University in New York who was attending the conference, said there were important differences between what occurred in World War II and the war on terror.


“The type of war we have now makes it different; this is a no-nation enemy. Al Qaeda is not going to surrender on the U.S. battleship Missouri,” he said, alluding to the vessel on which the Japanese surrendered.

He added that he was encouraged that there was more public conversation now about civil liberties.