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An Unlikely Lesson From Tokyo Rose

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Message Lawrence Fiarman
Congress is voting on a bill that would establish a military court system to prosecute terror suspects. President Bush requested the legislation in response to a Supreme Court ruling in June that held the President did not have the constitutional authority to conduct such courts without the approval of Congress. The bill under consideration would grant defendants more legal rights than they had under the administration's current system, but it would not include rights usually granted in civilian and military courts.

After a mostly party-line vote in the Republican-run House of Representatives, Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said Democrats who voted against the measure "voted today in favor of more rights for terrorists." We'll come back to that.

First, Tokyo Rose died this week in Chicago. She was 90. Born Iva Toguri in Los Angeles, she was visiting relatives in Japan when World War II started. While trying to get home, she supported herself on a Japanese propaganda radio show performing comedy skits and newscasts.

After the war she was accused of being the infamous Tokyo Rose. She was convicted of treason and served six years in prison. But in 1977 President Gerald Ford pardoned her. An investigation by Ron Yates, then a Chicago Tribune reporter, revealed that her accusers recanted. They said prosecutors pressured them to lie. After her release from prison, she married and lived quietly on Chicago's north side. Iva Toguri D'Aquino ran her family's small import business until her death.

Tokyo Rose's story is one of an ordinary person caught up in powerful world events. What lessons can such a poignant human-interest story teach us today? Simply this. Sometimes in war it's hard to glean the truth about an individual's involvement. Sometimes our zeal for retribution overcomes our passion for justice. Sometimes we just make a mistake.

Speaker Hastert may have been mistaken. Maybe Democrats weren't voting for "more rights for terrorists." They just could have been voting for a more careful conduct of justice. Justice is more than retribution. The pursuit of justice requires a well-laid trail of safeguards and correction points, not just a trial. But one needs a sense of justice before one can plot a path to it.

Many of the "enemy combatants" held for years in Guantanamo, without access to any justice system, have now been released without charges. There was no evidence against them, or they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time when swept up and taken to prison.

The woman convicted of being Tokyo Rose eventually benefited from safeguards on the road to justice. Without them she might have died this week in prison without charges ever filed. Perhaps Speaker Hastert might have called that justice. Thankfully for all Americans, his predecessors did not.
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Lawrence Fiarman is a freelance writer and former columnist for the local newspaper in his midwestern hometown.
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