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Our lawmakers ought to oppose secret evidence

Re: Accused of being suspicious.

Thanks to the Times for the comprehensive review of the Mazen Al-Najjar case in the May 7 edition. The extensive national interest in this and similar cases involving secret evidence makes one wonder why there is such a deafening silence from our congressmen, Jim Davis and Mike Bilirakis, and Sens. Bob Graham and Connie Mack.

These four gentlemen are undoubtedly concerned with the need to balance national security concerns about terrorism with the constitutional rights of citizens and non-citizens. Surely, we all share those concerns. However the violation of basic American justice in Dr. Al-Najjar's case is so egregious it demands attention.

The Department of Justice has detained Dr. Al-Najjar for three years, but it has filed no charges against him nor released any of the evidence against him. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, it appears Dr. Al-Najjar is presumed guilty because he worked with Ramadan Abdullah Shallah. If so, then I, a retired U.S. Foreign Service officer, am also guilty, and so are many others who associated with Shallah in pursuing scholarly activities relating to Islam and Islamic movements in the Middle East.

Are we to believe that the study of such movements is tantamount to endorsing or supporting them? And should the actions of one person six months after he left the United States diminish the value of those scholarly activities?

Some two dozen other Muslim non-citizens have also become entangled with the Justice Department on the basis of secret evidence. In those cases in which the federal courts forced the department to reveal the "secret evidence," it turned out to be unsubstantiated hearsay, newspaper clippings and other information that could not stand up to serious scrutiny.

Reps. David Bonior of Michigan and Tom Campbell of California have visited Dr. Al-Najjar in jail, and Republican leader Henry Hyde of Illinois became so concerned about the plight of Dr. Al-Najjar that he promised the Tampa Bay Muslim community that the full Judiciary Committee would hold hearings on the bill to outlaw secret evidence. In light of these actions by members of Congress from other states, it is difficult to understand why our Florida representatives have remained silent.

Arthur L. Lowrie, Lutz

Don't make Al-Najjar into a martyr

To paraphrase President Ronald Reagan, "There she goes again." Susan Aschoff's crusade for an undeserving alien, subject to deportation and considered a security risk by our government, is offensive. That the St. Petersburg Times allows her to carry on her crusade on behalf of Mazen Al-Najjar, and present it as news is a violation of the ethics of journalism. An examination of some facts that have been made known is in order.

Mazen Al-Najjar has been presented to the public as a "researcher." Actually, he taught Arabic as a graduate assistant and Ph.D. candidate at the University of South Florida. He was the co-founder of WISE (World and Islamic Studies Enterprise), an embarrassing USF think tank that proved to be a haven for the world's leading terrorists, such as Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, the current head of the Islamic Jihad, a group responsible for the deaths of Americans. It should also be noted that Sheik Rahmen, the World Trade Building bombing mastermind, was an overnight guest of those involved in WISE. Of course the "guilt by association" defense is offered by Al-Najjar's supporters.

Aschoff ignores the fact that Mazen Al-Najjar participated in a sham marriage to earn a stay in this country. He and his current wife have been under deportation orders for some time. Al-Najjar is free to leave the country. He could return to Gaza, where he was born. Gaza is under the Palestinian Authority, and he could put the education he undeservedly obtained in our country to use there.

Finally, Aschoff's articles undermine the efforts of our law enforcement agencies, whose task of protecting us from fanatical terrorists is daunting indeed. Mazen Al-Najjar is not deserving of the martyr's role with which Susan Aschoff seeks to anoint him. The effort to make him a victim at the hands of a government obligated to protect us is outrageous.

Aaron Kasson, Clearwater

Media imbalance pushes us to the right

Re: Journalism falls in a world of trouble, May 4.

Journalist David Nyhan's stab at self-criticism often seemed more like an attempt to win sympathy for those of his profession killed covering wars, trouble spots and repressive regimes. Their courage certainly merits our respect, but it seems a mixed message in the context of his column.

There are many problems with American journalism today, particularly the TV journalism that provides most Americans with their news. It lurches obsessively from one soap opera to the next, blotting out far more important stories. For example, lost in the media ballyhoo over O.J. Simpson was the demise of a health plan to insure more than 40-million Americans. Even modest coverage of that issue while it was before the House and Senate might have resulted in needed reform. But to the people who run TV news and opinion shows, it was of no interest compared to O.J.

Another serious problem, seldom acknowledged, is that the range of opinion offered to the public is severely constricted. Countercultural and left-wing opinions are kept out. America's most cogent political thinker may be Noam Chomsky, but no one has heard of him outside the campuses. Instead, the public is given a parade of obnoxious or obsequious conservatives, like Rush Limbaugh or George Will (to name just two of hundreds), or lightweight "centrists" like Mark Shields of CNN and PBS who are constantly apologizing for any liberal tendencies they might still have.

This national imbalance has pushed the political agenda in Washington so far to the right that Democrats are afraid to propose anything more than incremental or largely symbolic reform. What's more, during the impeachment crisis, the media actually allied itself with one political faction, the Republicans, in a very dubious effort to overturn the results of two national elections.

After 13 months of Monica, journalists like Nyhan still don't get it.

T.C. "Tommy" Bollinger, Tarpon Springs

Conservative agenda was showing

Re: Journalism gurus fail own lesson, April 29.

I am a student at the University of South Florida and last semester took an ethics course with Dr. Jay Black, one of the the authors of the book mentioned in Michelle Malkin's column. Her commentary was disturbing because her selection of facts was biased and incomplete. She discussed a private letter from the authors of Doing Ethics in Journalism to anchorman Mike Snyder, which she classified as a "damning admission." She quoted a small passage from the letter: "(O)ur original researcher on this case remembers drawing on material from regional and national media (but) five years later, we can find no documentation to support that particular element of this case." What particular element? She left out a chunk of information. I guess the reader is supposed to take her word that the admission was damning.

She also wrote: "No liberal news anchors with political conflicts of interest are mentioned. Guess they don't exist." But if she turned the page, she would find a case study discussing conflict-of-interest issues regarding a Democratic senator. It wouldn't hurt her to actually read the book and benefit from the information and principles within.

It is also interesting that she refers to the "lucrative pursuit of Doing Ethics." It was actually a pro bono project.

Finally, she claims that "SPJ ethics lords need a refresher course" on various codes, which include: "Test the accuracy of information from all sources, and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error." I guess commentators are free from those obligations.

It doesn't take an ethics scholar to find holes and a conservative agenda in the logic used by Michelle Malkin in her commentary.

Lorri J. Helfand, St. Petersburg

Those revealing newspapers

Re: Cigarette ads questioned, letter, May 9.

It seems the advertisement for Doral cigarettes has a Times reader in a huff, so much so that she did not want to donate her paper to the schools, as suggested, while on vacation. The kids may see the ad!

If we are to shelter kids from everything, then they should not be able to read a paper until they are of age. Maybe we should make the newspaper an age-restricted purchase. By doing so, the paper can make money on advertisements, and these advertisements would be out of the view of those under 18. One must realize newspapers are full of ads and articles involving sex, alcohol et al.

In all honesty, I do not know many kids who read the newspaper. But, just in case, let's make it a law that no one under 18 can possess or purchase a newspaper. This should be the cure for those who want to keep ads and such from "the children." Also, the Times may want to reconsider the policy of having one's paper donated to the schools while subscribers are on vacation unless, of course, the senior class members are all 18 years old.

Jackie Miller, St. Petersburg

Globalization wake-up calls

Re: High-tech imports: workers, by Lars-Erik Nelson, May 5.

During last year's protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle, media pundits, including some from the New York Times, were quick to marginalize the protesters as a "kooky crowd" and Luddites. Never mind that tens of thousands of those supposed simpletons were American working people like the telephone repairers and sales clerks that Lars-Erik Nelson describes. Oddly enough, Nelson laments the horror of middle-age computer experts doing that kind of work, because big businesses decided to cut their costs by importing foreign labor.

I can think of no greater incentive for an honest discussion on globalization and free trade than having this nation's professional elite sink to the horrors of the working class.

Troy C. Jones, St. Pete Beach

Why oppose pool safety?

Re: A victory for child safety, photo and caption, May 6.

Drowning is reportedly the No. 1 killer of children under the age of 4 in Florida. I'm sure the voting public would be interested in knowing the names of the eight legislators who chose not to support this bill!

Additionally, I would like to reply to the related letter of May 10 (Going off the deep end) that said asking people without children to safeguard their pools "is like requiring people without motorcycles to wear helmets." Thank God, some of us do expand beyond the recesses of our own small, self-centered minds.

Jackie McClain, Clearwater

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