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Rights violations on Earth, and beyond


Some of his former students recently accused Constitutional lawyer and UNC law professor emeritus Daniel Pollitt of telling lies.

"You told us there was a Fourth Amendment," they told Pollitt. "You told us there was a right to counsel and a speedy trial before a public jury."

Since President Bush enacted an executive order authorizing military tribunals behind closed doors, the rights of those accused of crimes have changed, Pollitt admitted. "I had to plead guilty, I had lied," Pollitt said he told his former students.

Pollitt made his comments during a keynote address at last week's annual meeting of The Wake County Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

At the meeting, the ACLU honored peace activist William Towe of Cary and The Human Rights Coalition of North Carolina with its 2002 W.W. Finlator Awards. Towe is national co-chair of Peace Action.

"Patriotic fervor makes moderation unpopular," Pollitt said. That fervor has led to many abuses, and things could get worse, he said. There are some indications that a Taliban official captured in Egypt is being tried before a military tribunal, Pollitt said.

"It's all secret, so we don't know," he said. "But what we do know is that the executive order is out there like a landmine, ready to explode whenever the president deems it is in the interest of the United States to activate the process."

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, more than 1,200 people--primarily young men of Arab descent--were arrested in a "sweep," Pollitt said. If they are tried before military tribunals, they will be conducted behind closed doors before a military jury. Evidence can be withheld, appeal is to the president only, and capital punishment can be imposed.

The Bush order "does not comport with Constitutional standards of due process," Pollitt said.

Towe is a Tar Heel native with a long history of social justice and civil rights work in North Carolina and Virginia. He served as a senior planner for Soul City, Floyd McKissick's experimental community in Warren County, and he was director of the Community Development Corp. in Durham.

But his concerns these days are far beyond the state lines. Towe, who has played a leading role around the state in organizing for peace, warned the group of a government satellite spying network, known as Echelon, that's keeping tabs on global communications.

"They're listening," Towe said. "They're violating your civil liberties. They're taking away your civil liberties."

And it goes further than that. Towe says activists need to watch out for U.S. plans to colonize space--both to acquire natural resources and to wage war.

"There are untold riches on the planets, the comets and the asteroids--far more valuable than gold and silver," Towe said.

Most sought, he said, is helium 3, an energy source on the moon. A spaceship carrying a 25-ton supply of helium 3 would be enough to provide for the energy needs of the US for nine months, Towe said.

"The U.S. must control and dominate space in order to protect U.S. commercial interests," Towe said. "The Gulf War proved that if you can control space, you can win any war on this earth."

Towe said activists must let their opposition be heard.

"If the FBI hasn't interviewed you or your organization you aren't doing enough," he said. "You need to raise more hell."

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