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A necessary evil, or just evil?

If you were a law professor looking for a tricky legal problem, you couldn't get much trickier than the position of the Guantanamo four, who will in all likelihood be released from police custody soon after they return here within a couple of weeks. . . .

The detention (by the United States) of the men for up to three years despite the lack of evidence would offend the basic laws of justice in peacetime. But, at a time of war _ when these men were detained _ it is the right of even the most impeccable of democracies to suspend those laws in the defense of its people.

Who would deny the right of the American government to have detained the Sept. 11 bombers if they had been caught on Sept. 10 on the merest hint that they were up to no good?

The question then becomes: How long do you detain suspects when your nation is involved in an asymmetrical war on terrorism that, as President Bush has said, may well last for decades rather than years? Momentary suspension of the basic laws of justice is a necessary evil; permanent suspension is just straightforwardly evil. . . .

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