The Legal War: And Justice For...

The White House wants to try terrorists in secret. Is this really in America's best interest?

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To enraged members of both parties in Congress, the Administration was expanding Executive power without even the courtesy of a phone call. Bush's approval ratings are too high an obstacle to climb publicly, but Ashcroft has no such protection. (Bad blood lingered between Congress and Ashcroft from one of his early briefings to House members after the attacks; he suggested that if the legislators had any questions or suggestions, they should call an 800 number.) On Friday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, with ranking minority member Orrin Hatch, sent Ashcroft a terse letter: "We request that you appear before the committee during the week after Thanksgiving." Republican Congressman Bob Barr, considerably less sanguine, told the Washington Post, "I'm not sure we can ever satisfy the Federal Government's insatiable appetite for more power."

The reason for speeding up the order, which according to one participant took 18 drafts, is that Justice officials believe they have enough evidence to seek the indictment of at least one suspected terrorist already in detention. He is Zacarias Moussaoui, a French-Moroccan who was arrested last August on immigration violations and is being held in New York City. He was not part of the Sept. 11 attacks, but the FBI believes he belongs to another al-Qaeda cell. A search of Moussaoui's laptop turned up material about crop dusters and aerosol chemical dispersal. According to Administration sources, charges against Moussaoui have not yet been filed because there is a raging debate about whether he should be the first to sit before a tribunal. More cases may be on the way. Says an Administration official: "If we thought there were just going to be a small handful of people tried, it may not have been worth going to this trouble."

--With reporting by James Carney, John F. Dickerson, Viveca Novak, Elaine Shannon and Michael Weisskopf/Washington

TIME.com To read former White House Counsel Lloyd Cutler's tribunals viewpoint, see time.com

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