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4th Amendment Rights for an Explosive Age

June 03, 2002

Re "Wrong, as a Matter of Law," Commentary, May 30: Jonathan Turley argues that the search of the computer of a foreign visitor who had outstayed his visa would be a violation of the 4th Amendment and an evil far outweighing the possible prevention of the 9/11 disasters. The 4th Amendment was written at a time when danger might come from a terrorist carrying a keg of black powder or a single-shot musket that took over a minute to reload. It did not contemplate a terrorist planting a nuclear device in the center of a city of 7 million. With the powder keg or musket it may be entirely reasonable to wait until the person commits the crime to institute a search. It wouldn't be reasonable for a nuclear device or even hijacked airliners.

Turley argues that the same standard should be applied to protecting a person who may have a small stash of drugs in his apartment as to a person with terrorist connections who perhaps carries a vial of smallpox virus. We quite literally cannot live with such a standard. If anything ever cried out for a double standard it is the 4th Amendment in a time of botulism. Oversight and control of the double standard, yes. But the law (and Turley) needs to live in the same dangerous world as we do.

Gary Brown

Santa Monica

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Turley writes that FBI agent Coleen Rowley was disturbingly wrong in holding that "if probable cause existed on Sept. 11, it must have existed before Sept. 11." Turley countered that "this is simply wrong as a matter of law. The attacks were obviously material to establishing probable cause against [Zacarias] Moussaoui."

However, if Turley's claim that the attacks of Sept. 11 did, in fact, establish probable cause, then probable cause was established long before by the attack on the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, and powerfully reinforced by the attacks on the U.S. embassies in Africa and the Cole in Yemen. Moussaoui was linked to the perpetrators of these attacks. Agent Rowley gets an A in constitutional law, and Turley needs a serious refresher course.

Thomas Rath

Van Nuys

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Re "FBI Given Broad Authority to Monitor Public Activities," May 31: I applaud the additional leverage the FBI has won--to conduct domestic counter-terrorism surveillance at places like mosques--as a major step backward in American culture. After all, they are only Muslims whom the FBI intends to spy on.

M. Salem Garawi

Los Angeles

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So now the Republicans no longer want the FBI to investigate interns, Chinese scientists, legal satellite sales to China, misplaced files, local land deals or sexual harassment cases thrown out by lower courts ("FBI to Shift Agents to Terror War," May 29)? You mean, they want the FBI to protect Americans? What a concept! Imagine how different things might be today if the FBI's past focus had been on something other than investigating what's-his-name.

Douglas L. Hall

Los Angeles

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