After four decades

''Justice delayed is justice denied'', said 19th-century British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone. It is a phrase Congress should remember as it considers what formal action the US now should take toward the 120,000 living Japanese-Americans the US interned during World War II.

By next month proposals will be before both houses of Congress to implement three recommendations made earlier this summer by a federal commission: a national apology, payment of $20,000 to each person interned, and establishment of a fund for research and the education of Americans about the internment.

Supporters of the proposal are encouraged that, despite several potential obstacles, support for the measure in the House appears to be gaining, including from the leadership. Some House hearings may be held this fall to parallel the Senate subcommittee hearings begun late last month. The action already has progressed faster than supporters had anticipated. The need now is for the hearings to be expeditious, and for the several committees and subcommittees who can claim jurisdiction to agree to act promptly and to avoid the unnecessary and repetitious hearings that sometimes occur.

During its consideration Congress needs to resolve two issues that have been raised about the bill. One is whether in this time of $200 billion fiscal deficits the US can afford to take on the expenditure of an estimated $1.5 billion in compensation. The second is whether monetary compensation in this case is appropriate.

Shortly after the commission made its recommendations, Rep. Norman Mineta (D) of California, who had been interned himself, forecast that it might take five or six years before Congress completed its action. As he and others point out, approximately half the persons interned have passed on by now; it would be as unjust as it would be unnecessary to expect the remainder to wait years more for justice. Congress can and should decide promptly what it considers the proper course of action, so that justice not be denied now to those who experienced such grave injustice 41 years ago.

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