For one particularly horrific type of crime - the bombing of innocent people for a political cause - the United States has sent a clear message to would-be perpetrators: The rule of law will prevail.
The most recent case is Tuesday's conviction of a former Ku Klux Klansman for blowing up a church in 1963 in Birmingham, Ala., and the killing of four black girls.
Though justice was delayed 38 years, the verdict nonetheless shows the steady progress made in both the will and the techniques of law-enforcement officials in bringing justice in political bombings. In 1993, the case was reopened by a Birmingham FBI agent, who helped find 9,000 secret documents and surveillance tapes collected by the FBI but never given to prosecutors.
More recent bombings have received swifter justice, such as the conviction of Timothy McVeigh for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the 1998 sentencing of "unabomber" Ted Kaczynski for his nearly 20 years of bombings-by-mail.
This month, a US court convicted Ahmed Ressam, the Algerian-born Montrealer who tried to enter the US with a carload of explosives in 1999, presumably to bomb sites during millennium events.
And a trial is under way in New York for four followers of Osama bin Laden for their alleged involvement in the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in Africa that killed 224 people, including 12 Americans.
The US has stepped up efforts to stop terrorists before they build and detonate their bombs.
One way to do that is to make sure they know that justice will be swift and certain.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor