Civil liberties forum set for Saturday

Discussion topics will range from the Bush administration's policy on military tribunals to a Japanese American's experience with internment during World War II on Saturday during a forum, "Civil Liberties in a Time of War," at Riverside Community Church. Doors open at 12:30 p.m., with the event to begin at 1 p.m. Admission is free.

The forum, billed as an "afternoon dialogue," is sponsored by Columbia River Fellowship for Peace. Four speakers will address the timely topics of the Patriot Act, military tribunals, racial profiling and detention.

The U.S. Attorney for Oregon, Mike Mosman, will be the first speaker and will explain the Bush administration's support for the recently passed legislation known as the Patriot Act, the executive order establishing military tribunals, and the detention of people of Middle Eastern descent.

Mosman is one of the highest ranking Bush appointees in the Pacific Northwest, and the top ranking federal law enforcement official in Oregon. His responsibilities include carrying out the president's controversial anti-terrorism policies.

Mosman will take questions from the audience after his talk.

The second speaker will be Charles F. Hinkle, an attorney and longtime advocate of civil liberties. He is past president of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oregon and serves as an attorney for that organization as well as for The Oregonian. He has served as lead counsel in many cases involving free speech and other constitutional law issues, including the death penalty, assisted suicide and religious freedom.

Hinkle will offer criticism of the Patriot Act and military tribunals, followed by a question-and-answer period.

The forum will conclude with a panel discussion featuring Bishara Costandi, a Palestinian rights advocate, and Dr. Homer Yasui, a retired surgeon and native of Hood River who was forced into a Japanese internment camp during World War II.

Costandi will address the detention of more than 1,000 people of Middle Eastern descent since Sept. 11. He will also discuss how the singling out of Arab and Muslim people has led to attacks on them, both in U.S. jails and in cities around the country.

Yasui will talk about the last time the U.S. government singled out people based on their ethnicity: World War II, when more than 110,000 Japanese Americans were rounded up and sent to internment camps around the West. More than 500 Japanese Americans from the Mid-Columbia were interned -- including Yasui, who was 17 and a senior at Hood River High School when he was forced to leave for internment at Tule Lake, Calif.

This is the first time Yasui has returned to Hood River to speak publicly about his experience.

Members of Columbia River Fellowship for Peace were interested in hosting another "dialogue" after the success of a forum the group sponsored in November which focused on the war in Afghanistan.

"We were looking at a number of topics we could explore," said group member Mark Nykanen. "The issue of civil liberties came up because it seemed like a pressing issue no matter what your point of view is." He said that the idea of civil liberties being curtailed during a time of war is not unusual, "but it's certainly unusual in the lifetimes of most of us."

Nykanen said the group worked hard to decide on experts to address the various topics.

"Mosman is in a strong position to talk about why the Bush administration feels a need to have the Patriot Act and military tribunals at its disposal," Nykanen said. Similarly, Hinkle is "uniquely qualified" to address civil rights issues those policies affect, he said.

Costandi and Yasui "can bring a personal perspective to the civil liberties issue that goes beyond the legal issues," he said.

Nykanen hopes people with sentiments on both sides of the issue will come to the dialogue.

"People of good will can disagree on the issues -- and do every day," he said, adding that he's been impressed with the "vibrant" debate on the topic in the mainstream media during the last few months.

"What's nice about having a forum like this is that people are not reduced to hearing about it in 10 second soundbites," he said.

"We hope people at the end of the event will come away with a deeper understanding of what's at stake in the civil liberties debate," he said. "We want to give people the information to really ground their point of view."

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