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Ford’s Theatre in D.C. may seem an odd venue for critiquing President George W. Bush’s domestic surveillance program. But it was a central theme at a panel discussion held there on Jan. 23 to discuss civil liberties in World War II America. The panel discussion was prompted by “Trying,” the play running at Ford’s until Feb. 26, in which actor James Whitmore portrays an aging Francis Biddle, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s attorney general. Biddle was opposed to the administration’s policy of interning Japanese-Americans, but ultimately gave in, a decision that haunted him in later years. George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley and former Reagan Justice Department aide Bruce Fein drew direct parallels to current DOJ lawyers who justify the Bush surveillance program. “Very talented people can do very bad things,” said Turley. The public needs to rise up and tell Bush, “No one wears a crown here,” said Fein. Whitmore, who was in the audience, also spoke. “This is one subject we cannot afford to be ignorant of,” he said. Pointing to the balcony where President Abraham Lincoln was shot in 1865, Whitmore said the theater represents “the dark, the vicious, the mean side of our society.”
Tony Mauro can be contacted at [email protected].

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