Yasui draws ovation at forum

A capacity crowd of 250 citizens jammed Hood River's Riverside Community Church on Saturday to hear a former local resident, a former president of the Oregon ACLU and Oregon's U.S. Attorney present different perspectives on issues raised by the recently-passed USA Patriot Act and President George W. Bush's plan to conduct military trials for suspected terrorists.

Dr. Homer Yasui, raised in Hood River, shared his personal experiences with loss of basic civil liberties as a Japanese American internee during World War II. While speaking candidly about the anti-Japanese sentiments that seemed to dominate the mood in the Hood River Valley both before and after WWII, he took pains to acknowledge those who reached out to help their Japanese American neighbors, especially upon their return from the internment camps.

Dr. Yasui acknowledged local citizens who stood up to public criticism to help their returning Japanese neighbors, most notably including the Rev. and Mrs. Sherman Burgoyne; Arline Moore; R.J. McIsaac; Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Smith; Clyde Linville; Avon Sutton; Hazel Smith; Captain Sheldon Laurance; David Sandstrom; Glen Cody; Joe and June Haviland and Mrs. Vannier.

Particularly helpful religious fellowships, according to Yasui, were the Quakers, Seventh Day Adventists, and Methodists.

Yasui described experiences of the first three internees to return to Hood River -- Ray Soto, Satoru Noji and Min Asai -- who feared to do their own shopping because of signs in stores refusing Japanese trade. They gave money for groceries to local resident R.J. "Bob" McIsaac, who did their shopping for them. Some of these signs, he said, remained in place for more than six years.

Dr. Yasui was greeted with the only standing ovation of the day, at the conclusion of his remarks.

Charles Hinkle, who in addition to his ACLU affiliation, is a past president of the Portland City Club and a constitutional law professor at Lewis & Clark College, reminded his audience that the Bill of Rights "was not written to protect majorities; it is minority groups who need protection from abuses of governmental power."

He sharply criticized the Patriot Act and the military tribunals for straying too far in the direction of exalting security over individual liberty.

"Do we want to give the government every tool to combat terrorism?" Hinkle asked. His answer was that the "fundamental right to be left alone" is important enough to require limiting government's power to place public safety over individual rights.

Mike Mosman, who as U.S. Attorney is one of the highest ranking Bush appointees in the Pacific Northwest, also noted that he treasured individual liberty and resents "unwarranted government interference" in the lives of individuals. Therefore, he said, if the Patriot Act had extensively expanded government powers, he would oppose it, but he denied that any substantial changes had been made.

Hinkle charged that the act greatly increased the government's legal right to obtain information from citizens through the courts by spying and by examining private records. He also alleged that the government's power to detain both citizens and non-citizens without judicial review has been significantly extended.

"Not true," Mosman repeated several times. The act, he said, "has changed almost nothing" except to make previous laws "technology neutral," allowing the government the same information gathering powers regardless of how the original information is collected and stored.

He called it a "humdrum act" and said its importance has been greatly exaggerated. The only real expansion, Mosman asserted, is in the area of permitting government to more easily seize the assets of terrorists, but he emphasized even this still requires contested-case hearings.

Hinkle charged that military tribunals have been used before in the U.S. and are examples of times when fear and anger allowed an eclipse of civil liberties. History, he said, has repudiated these excesses.

He objected strenuously to the phrase "war on terrorism" because no war has been declared by Congress and the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba are not being called prisoners of war.

Mosman remarked that to say we are not at war "exalts form over substance." He called the tribunals both constitutional and a wise use of power which has been endorsed by all three branches of government. In answer to a question from the audience, Mosman advised that if citizens are unhappy with the Patriot Act, the proper response was to ask members of their congressional delegation to amend it.

Bishara Costani, a Palestinian from Portland, also shared his experiences of discrimination during a panel discussion with Dr. Yasui which sought to put a human face on consequences resulting from loss of civil liberties. Bishara told of growing up as a Palestinian youth under a system dominated by the Israeli military.

The audience participated in question and answer sessions following each speaker.

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