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The evacuation and relocation of persons of Japanese ancestry from the west coast of the United States following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, constitutes one of the most dubious episodes in the history of American civil liberties. Approximately 112,000 persons were involved, more than 70,000 of whom were American citizens. Influenced by U.S. military authorities, the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt justified the program as militarily necessary in the light of wartime national security requirements, a line of reasoning that many historians and legal scholars have subjected to severe criticism during the past five decades.

The program was implemented with a series of executive and military orders initiated by Executive Order 9066, a presidential proclamation issued on February 19, 1942, that authorized military authorities to designate certain restricted military areas from which any or all persons might be excluded. On March 21, Congress gave Roosevelt's order statutory approval by passing a law providing penalties for persons who violated orders to enter or leave the designated military areas.

After promulgation of Executive Order 9066, the Western Defense Command, which had been designated by the War Department to oversee the evacuation program, took control of all persons of Japanese ancestry who lived in the exclusion zone — California, the western parts of Oregon and Washington, and the southern portion of Arizona — through a series of military orders and proclamations. Forced to leave their homes, the persons of Japanese ancestry were directed to report to civil control stations for transport out of the zone to 16 assembly centers, temporary camps operated by the Western Defense Command's civilian arm, the Wartime Civil Control Administration. From the assembly centers, the evacuees were transported to ten relocation centers under the jurisdiction of the War Relocation Authority, an agency which had been established on March 18, 1942, by Executive Order 9102 to implement an orderly relocation program.

Ten relocation centers were established, including Manzanar and Tule Lake in California; Colorado River (Poston) and Gila River in Arizona; Minidoka in Idaho; Central Utah (Topaz) in Utah; Heart Mountain in Wyoming; Granada (Amache) in Colorado; and Rohwer and Jerome in Arkansas. The first evacuees from the exclusion zone went to Manzanar, a site comprising some 5,700 acres of arid desert land in Owens Valley in eastern California. Opened as a reception or assembly center by the WCCA on March 21, 1942, Manzanar was transferred to the WRA on June l, 1942, at which time it was formally designated as a war relocation center. At its peak capacity, approximately 10,000 evacuees, the vast majority coming from the Los Angeles area, would reside at Manzanar.

The evacuees were confined in the relocation centers for varying periods during the war, pending their resettlement outside the exclusion zone until the military exclusion zone restrictions were lifted on January 2, 1945. Thus, thousands of persons of Japanese ancestry, including American citizens and Japanese aliens, were subjected to long-term forcible detention without having been charged with any offense and without any pretense of due process of law.

Harold S. Jacoby, a sociologist and staff member at Tule Lake from May 1942 to July 1944 and a member of the faculty of the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, for more than 40 years before his retirement in 1976, has recently published a book, entitled Tule Lake: From Relocation to Segregation, in which he addresses issues relating to the evacuation and relocation program within its historic context. Concerned that his book might be "prematurely set aside" as "a whitewash" because he had been a one-time WRA staff member, Jacoby noted:

The evacuation of the Japanese Americans was a cruel and wholly unnecessary action, motivated far more by economic and political considerations than by military necessity. . . .

. . . . It is difficult to believe that this [exclusion] was done solely on the basis of the WDC's [Western Defense Command's] concern for military security. More likely, it was every bit as much a product of the political pressure being applied by influential economic interests, such organizations as the American Legion and the Native Sons of the Golden West, that had long-standing records of being opposed to the Japanese, and by such newspapers as the Hearst press, and the McClatchy's Sacramento Bee, all of them looking upon the situation as a golden opportunity to rid the country — and especially California — of an unwanted population element.

As it happened, 1942 was an election year in California, and candidates for public office of all stripes and shades sought to make political capital out of promises to straighten out the 'Japanese problem.' Sadly, this was the temptation to which Earl Warren succumbed. As attorney general, he was in the process of seeking the governorship of the state, and he was faced by an opponent who made no bones about his readiness to deal effectively with the 'Japanese problem.' Warren was no rabble rouser on the subject, but he did lend his personal prestige and that of his office in support of the decision to evacuate the Japanese Americans.

Members of the California Congressional delegation and candidates for their replacement, in order to validate their campaign rhetoric, brought pressure on the White House to take action against the 'japs,' presumably in exchange for their support of other pieces of wartime legislation. It is not at all likely that the military decision of the WDC was solely an outgrowth of this pressure, but it was probably welcomed by the commanding general, as it simplified for him the task of securing acceptance of this drastic action.

Despite his understanding of the context for the evacuation and relocation program, Jacoby nevertheless believes that the WRA carried out its mandate in a responsible manner. Moreover, he finds that recent publications "tend to cover the events of the evacuation in a fashion designed to raise the sympathetic consciousness of the reader with respect to the treatment accorded the Japanese Americans." He objects to "the practice of referring to the relocation centers as 'concentration camps' or 'internment centers,'" and he finds that most "of these books are noticeably incomplete in what they portray with respect to the WRA program in the centers." Thus, he determined to write his book to "provide the public with a more complete and accurate understanding of what took place in the centers during those regrettable years." Based on his experiences at Tule Lake, he concluded:

Considering the nature of the task assigned to it and the general wartime environment within which it was forced to operate, the WRA did a commendable, but not necessarily a mistake-free, job in the operation of its camp and resettlement programs; and that, while the centers were hardly vacation resorts, there is no justification for labeling them as 'concentration camps,' with all that the use of such a term implies. [1]

Despite the constitutional implications of the evacuation and relocation program, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to interpose its authority, apparently because it hesitated to challenge directly the "military necessity" argument. Despite its reluctance to intervene, however, several cases reached the Court in 1943 and 1944. In separate incidents, Minoru Yasui was arrested for violating a military curfew in Portland, Oregon, on March 28, 1942, and Gordon Hirabayashi turned himself in to the FBI in Seattle on May 16, 1942, for failing to register for evacuation. On June 21, 1943, the Court delivered a unanimous decision in Hirabayashi v. United States (320 U.S. 81), and its companion case Yasui y. United States, in which it carefully refused to consider the issue of Japanese exclusion from the west coast, holding merely that military curfew regulations issued by the Western Defense Command passed constitutional muster under the war powers granted to the federal government in view of the national emergency following Pearl Harbor and a requirement of judicial deference to military necessity during time of war. Writing for the entire Court, Chief Justice Harlan F. Stone noted in his opinion:

Distinctions between citizens solely because of their ancestry are by their very nature odious to a free people whose institutions are founded upon the doctrine of equality. For that reason, legislative classification or discrimination based on race alone has often been held to be a denial of equal protection. . . . We may assume that these considerations would be controlling here were it not for the fact that the danger of espionage and sabotage, in time of war and of threatened invasion, calls upon the military authorities to scrutinize every relevant fact bearing on the loyalty of population in the danger areas. Because racial discriminations are in most circumstances irrelevant and therefore prohibited, it by no means follows that, in dealing with the periods of war, Congress and the Executive are wholly precluded from taking into account those facts and circumstances which are relevant to measures for our national defense and for the successful prosecution of the war, and which may in fact place citizens of one ancestry in a different category from others.

The following year, on October 11-12, 1944, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Korematsu y. US. (323 U.S. 214) and Ex parte Endo (323 U.S. 283). The Court delivered its decisions in both cases on December 18, 1944, one day after the War Department rescinded it exclusion zone orders. Fred T. Korematsu, an American citizen, had been arrested in San Leandro, California, on May 30, 1942, for failing to report to the Tanforan Assembly Center with his family contrary to Civilian Exclusion Order No. 34. Later, he was convicted in a federal district court, and the conviction was affirmed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Mitsuye Endo, also an American citizen, was evacuated from Sacramento in 1942 to the Tule Lake War Relocation Center and subsequently to the Central Utah relocation center at Topaz. She applied to WRA officials for a permit to leave the center which was granted on February 16, 1943, by the WRA. However, because of resettlement difficulties, she was not released from the camp. Thus, in July 1943, she filed a writ of habeas corpus in the U.S. District Court asking that she be discharged and restored to liberty. The district court denied her petition, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied her appeal in August 1943.

In the Korematsu case, the Court rendered a 6-3 decision that validated the west coast exclusion order in an opinion that again invoked military necessity and dodged basic issues relating to constitutional liberty. The decision upheld the constitutionality of the exclusion of a single racial group to be within the war powers of Congress and of the president. Speaking for the six justices, Justice Hugo Black noted in his majority opinion:

It is said that we are dealing here with the case of imprisonment of a citizen in a concentration camp solely because of his ancestry, without evidence or inquiry concerning his loyalty and good disposition towards the United States. Our task would be simple, our duty clear, were this a case involving the imprisonment of a loyal citizen in a concentration camp because of racial prejudice. Regardless of the true nature of the assembly and relocation centers — and we deem it unjustifiable to call them concentration camps with all the ugly connotations that term implies — we are dealing specifically with nothing but an exclusion order. To cast this case into outlines of racial prejudice, without reference to the real military dangers which were presented, merely confuses the issue. Korematsu was not excluded from the Military Area because of hostility to him or his race. He was excluded because we are at war with the Japanese Empire, because the properly constituted military authorities feared an invasion of our West Coast and felt constrained to take proper security measures, because they decided that the military urgency of the situation demanded that all citizens of Japanese ancestry be segregated from the West Coast temporarily, and finally, because Congress, reposing its confidence in this time of war in our military leaders — as inevitably it must — determined that they should have the power to do just this. There was evidence of disloyalty on the part of some, the military authorities considered that the need for action was great, and time was short. We cannot — by availing ourselves of the calm perspective of hindsight — now say that at that time these actions were unjustified.

Justices Owen J. Roberts, Robert H. Jackson, and Frank Murphy entered embittered dissents to Black's majority opinion. In his dissent, Roberts observed that Korematsu's conviction represented a "case of convicting a citizen as a punishment for not submitting to imprisonment in a concentration camp, based on his ancestry, and solely because of his ancestry. without evidence or inquiry concerning his loyalty and good disposition towards the United States."

In his dissent, Justice Jackson observed that it "would be impracticable and dangerous idealism to expect or insist that each specific military command in an area of probable operations will conform to conventional tests of constitutionality." However, he noted that "if we cannot confine military expedients by the Constitution, neither would I distort the Constitution to approve all that the military may deem expedient." Even if DeWitt's orders "were permissible military procedures, I deny that it follows that they are constitutional." "If, as the Court holds, it does follow, then we may as well say that any military order will be constitutional and have done with it."

In his dissent Justice Murphy stated that this "exclusion of 'all persons of Japanese ancestry, both alien and non-alien,' from the Pacific Coast area on a plea of military necessity in the absence of martial law ought not to be approved." Such "exclusion goes over 'the very brink of constitutional power' and falls into the ugly abyss of racism." He went on to observe:

The military necessity which is essential to the validity of the evacuation order thus resolves itself into a few intimations that certain individuals actively aided the enemy, from which it is inferred that the entire group of Japanese Americans could not be trusted to be or remain loyal to the United States. No one denies, of course, that there were some disloyal persons of Japanese descent on the Pacific Coast . . . . But to infer that examples of individual disloyalty and to justify discriminatory action against the entire group is to deny that under our system of law individual guilt is the sole basis for deprivation of rights.

Despite its divisions in the Korematsu case, however, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Ex parte Endo, upholding the right of a Japanese American girl of unquestioned loyalty to her freedom on a writ of habeas corpus but again without touching fundamental constitutional questions. Thus, the Court ruled that the WRA could not detain loyal citizens in the camps nor bar them from the west coast. Speaking for the court, Justice William O. Douglas wrote that Endo was entitled to an unconditional release by the War Relocation Authority. He noted further:

A citizen who is concededly loyal presents no problem of espionage or sabotage. Loyalty is a matter of the heart and mind, not of race, creed, or color. He who is loyal is by definition not a spy or a saboteur. When the power to detain is derived from the power to protect the war effort against espionage and sabotage, detention which has no relationship to the objective is unauthorized.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Roberts observed that "I am of the view that detention in Relocation Centers of persons of Japanese ancestry regardless of loyalty is not only unauthorized by Congress or by the Executive but is another example of the unconstitutional resort to racism inherent in the entire evacuation program." Racial discrimination "of this nature bears no reasonable relation to military necessity and is utterly foreign to ideals and traditions of the American people." [2]

In retrospect, it is difficult to disagree with Justice Roberts' conclusion that the evacuation and relocation program was the result of racial prejudice that had permeated American society on the west coast, and particularly in California, for more than 40 years. It is equally difficult to escape the conclusion that the Roosevelt administration, by resorting to the relocation program, not only yielded to that racial prejudice but also to the wartime hysteria and mounting fears of an imminent Japanese invasion that were sweeping the west coast in the wake of Pearl Harbor. [3]

Moreover, the evacuation and relocation programs and their sanctity by the Supreme Court established broader constitutional precedents that are potentially dangerous for the future of American civil liberties. In his Americans Betrayed, Morton Grodzins concluded that the Supreme Court failed in a test of its capacity to defend constitutional liberty during a time of national crisis. The "military-necessity" argument, which the Court has never overturned, established a legal precedent that, according to Grodzins, "betrayed all Americans." He further stated:

Japanese Americans were the immediate victims of the evacuation. But larger consequences are carried by the American people as a whole. Their legacy is the lasting one of precedent and constitutional sanctity for a policy of mass incarceration under military auspices. This is the most important result of the process by which the evacuation decision was made. . . . [4]

Continuing with this line of thought, Eugene V. Rostow, a professor of law at Yale University. wrote a scathing article in the June 1945 issue of the Yale Law Review in which he stated that the "many opinions of the three Japanese cases do not consider the primary constitutional issues which are raised by the West Coast anti-Japanese program as a whole." In the article which was published while the war was still underway and thousands of evacuees remained in the relocation centers, he noted further:

. . . . This was a program which included (a) a discriminatory curfew against Japanese persons; (b) their exclusion from the West Coast; (c) their confinement pending investigations of loyalty; and (d) the indefinite confinement of those persons found to be disloyal. These measures were proposed and accepted as military necessities. Their validity as military measures was an issue in litigation By what standards are courts to pass on the justification for such military action? Were those standards satisfied here?

In response to his own questions, Rostow concluded that the "war-time treatment of Japanese aliens and citizens of Japanese descent on the West Coast has been hasty, unnecessary and mistaken." The "course of action which we undertook was in no way required or justified by the circumstances of the war." Instead, it "was calculated to produce both individual injustice and deep-seated social maladjustments of a cumulative and sinister kind." Continuing, Rostow observed:

All in all, the internment of the West Coast Japanese is the worst blow our liberties have sustained in many years. Over one hundred thousand men, women and children have been imprisoned, some seventy thousand of them citizens of the United States, without indictment or the proffer of charges, pending inquiry into their 'loyalty.' They were taken into custody as a military measure on the ground that espionage and sabotage were especially to be feared from persons of Japanese blood. They were removed from the West Coast area because the military thought it would take too long to conduct individual loyalty investigations on the ground. They were arrested in an area where the courts were open, and freely functioning. They were held under prison conditions in uncomfortable camps, far from their homes, and for lengthy periods — several years in many cases. If found "disloyal' in administrative proceedings they were confined indefinitely, although no statute makes 'disloyalty' a crime; it would be difficult indeed for a statute to do so under a Constitution which has been interpreted to minimize imprisonment for political opinions, both by defining the crime of treason in extremely rigid and explicit terms, and by limiting convictions for sedition and life offenses. In the course of relocation citizens have suffered severe property losses, despite some custodial assistance by the Government. Perhaps 70,000 persons are still in camps, 'loyal' and 'disloyal' citizens and aliens alike, more than three years after the programs were instituted. . . . If the Court had stepped forward in bold heart to vindicate the law and declare the entire program illegal, the episode would have been passed over as a national scandal, but a temporary one altogether capable of reparation. But the Court, after timid and evasive delays, has now upheld the main features of the program. That step converts a piece of war-time folly into political doctrine, and a permanent part of the law. Moreover, it affects a peculiarly important and sensitive part of the law. The relationship of civil to military authority is not often litigated. It is nonetheless one of the two or three most essential elements in the legal structure of a democratic society. The Court's few declarations on the subject govern the handling of vast affairs. They determine the essential organization of the military establishment, state and federal in time of emergency or of war, as well as of peace. What the Supreme Court has done in these cases, and especially in Korematsu y. United States, is to increase the strength of the military in relation to civil government. It has upheld an act of military power without a factual record in which the justification for the act was analyzed. Thus it has created doubt as to the standards of responsibility to which the military power will be held. For the first time in American legal history, the Court has seriously weakened the protection of our basic civil right, the writ of habeas corpus. It has established a precedent which may well be used to encourage attacks on the civil rights of citizens and aliens, and may make it possible for some of those attacks to succeed. It will give aid to reactionary political programs which use social division arid racial prejudice as tools for conquering power. . . . [5]

While the moral and constitutional issues of the evacuation and relocation program have been debated during the past five decades, persons of Japanese ancestry in the United States have undertaken efforts to secure redress for their losses during the war. Although Congress passed the Japanese American Evacuation Claims Act on July 2, 1948, allowing persons of Japanese ancestry to file claims against the government for losses of property that resulted from the evacuation and relocation program, little was done in terms of redress until July 1970. That month the national convention of the Japanese American Citizens League passed its first resolution accepting redress as an issue of concern for the organization. Four years later, in July 1974, the JACL national convention established the National Redress Committee. In July 1978, the JACL national convention approved guidelines for its National Redress Committee to follow, including working toward securing redress for former evacuees and internees in the form of individual payments of $25,000 and the creation of a trust fund to benefit Japanese Americans. On the 34th anniversary of the issuance of Executive Order 9066, President Gerald R. Ford formally rescinded the presidential proclamation, stating "We know now what we should have known then: not only was evacuation wrong, but Japanese-Americans were and are loyal Americans." On November 25, 1978, the first "Day of Remembrance" program was conducted at Camp Harmony, Washington, site of the former Puyallup Assembly Center.

In late January 1979, the JACL National Redress Committee met with Hawaii Senators Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga and California Congressmen Norman Mineta and Robert Matsui to discuss strategies for obtaining redress. A study commission was proposed. Finally, on July 31, 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed into law the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) Act. Between July 14 and December 9, 1981, the CWRIC held twenty days of hearings in nine cities during which more than 750 witnesses testified. In December 1982, the CWRIC released its report, Personal Justice Denied, concluding that Executive Order 9066 was "not justified by military necessity" and was the result of "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership."

In June 1983, the CWRIC issued five recommendations for redress to Congress. First, it called for a joint congressional resolution acknowledging and apologizing for the wrongs initiated in 1942. Second, it recommended a presidential pardon for persons who had been convicted of violating the several statutes establishing and enforcing the evacuation and relocation program. Third, it urged Congress to direct various parts of the government to deal liberally with applicants for restitution of status and entitlements lost because of wartime prejudice and discrimination, such as the less than honorable discharges that were given to many Japanese American soldiers in the weeks after Pearl Harbor. Fourth, it recommended that Congress appropriate money to establish a special foundation to sponsor research and public educational activities "so that the causes and circumstances of this and similar events may be illuminated." Fifth, it called upon Congress to make a one-time, tax-free, per capita compensation of $20,000 to each of the estimated 60,000 survivors who had been evacuated or interned.

While various redress bills were slowly proceeding through the legislative process, Japanese Americans were also taking their struggle for redress to the courts. In January 1983, Fred Korematsu, Minoru Yasui, and Gordon Hirabayashi each filed petitions for writ of error coram nobis to reopen their wartime cases. As a result, U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Patel granted Korematsu's petition for a writ of error, thus reversing his 40-year-old conviction.

On January 16, 1984, U.S. District Court Judge Robert C. Belloni granted a motion by the government to vacate Minoru Yasui's conviction, but dismissed his petition for a writ of error. Yasui appealed the dismissal of his petition to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, but in November 1986 Yasui died. His family asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review his case, but in 1987 the Court refused to grant certiorari.

On February 10, 1986, U.S. District Court Judge Donald Voorhees ruled that the suppression of evidence by the War Department was a fundamental error and vacated Hirabayashi's exclusion order conviction He also ruled that Hirabayashi's curfew conviction was not affected by the government's misconduct. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Judge Voorhees' verdict on the curfew conviction and remanded the case to him with orders to vacate both convictions. Finally, on January 12, 1988, Judge Voorhees set aside Hirabayashi's curfew conviction. Subsequently, the federal government declined to ask for a review of this order.

On March 16, 1983, William Hohri, the chair of the National Council for Japanese American Redress (NCJAR), filed a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Government on behalf of 25 named Japanese American plaintiffs and all former evacuated and interned Japanese Americans in general. The lawsuit stated 22 causes of action, including 15 violations of constitutional rights, and asked for $27,000,000,000 in damages. More than one year later, on May 17, 1984, U.S. District Court Judge Louis F. Oberdorfer dismissed the Hohri class-action suit on the grounds of sovereign immunity and the statue of limitations. On January 21, 1986, Judge Oberdorfer's dismissal of the Hohri class-action suit was reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, ruling in favor of the NCJAR plaintiffs on the statue of limitations. On August 26, 1986, NCJAR appealed Judge Oberdorfer's sovereign immunity ruling, filing a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court. In a unanimous decision on June 1, 1987, the Court vacated the U.S. Court of Appeals' decision and ordered the district court appeal to be reheard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The federal circuit court subsequently ruled in favor of the government.

On August 10, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 into law, providing for payments of $20,000 to each surviving evacuee and internee over a ten year period. The bill also provided for review of convictions and pardons of crimes for noncooperation with military orders and Congressional legislation relating to the evacuation and relocation program, and established the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund. On November 21, 1989, President George Bush signed into law a measure establishing redress and an entitlement program with payments to be paid out during fiscal years 1991-93. Copies of the following letter from President Bush accompanied the redress checks:

A monetary sum and words alone cannot restore lost years or erase painful memories; neither can they fully convey our Nation's resolve to rectify injustice and to uphold the rights of individuals. We can never fully right the wrongs of the past. But we can take a clear stand for justice and recognize that serious injustices were done to Japanese Americans during World War II.

In enacting a law calling for restitution and offering a sincere apology, your fellow Americans have in a very real sense, renewed their traditional commitment to the ideals of freedom, equality. and justice. You and your family have our best wishes for the future. [6]

When it was found that additional funds were needed for redress payments because the original estimate of the number of eligible recipients were too low, legislation was enacted to provide for the additional funds. On September 27, 1992, President Bush signed a measure into law ensuring that all eligible Japanese American recipients would receive $20,000 in redress money.

According to Leslie T. Hatamiya, for the approximately 80,000 surviving Japanese Americans whose rights were violated, passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 and its subsequent amending legislation "signified the culmination of a 40-year struggle for an apology and monetary restitution from the United States government for the unjust evacuation and internment that they had suffered" during World War II. "On a more universal level, the bill's passage reconfirmed all citizens' constitutional civil rights and civil liberties." For these reasons, "passage was more than just a victory of Japanese Americans; it was a victory for all Americans." According to Hatamiya, its passage "was a promise by the U.S. government that it would never again incarcerate a group of its own citizens en masse, without due process of law, solely on the basis of ethnicity." Passage of the Civil Liberties Act "breathed new life into the U.S. Constitution as it entered its third century." The story of the redress bill's success, according to Hatamiya, serves as a reminder of the need for the people of this nation "to fight for adherence to constitutional principles in the coming decades of dramatic social change." He concluded his comments on the significance of the bill's passage by quoting the words of former Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, the truth of which remains a challenge for all Americans today:

You may think that the Constitution is your security — it is nothing but a piece of paper. You may think that the statutes are your security — they are nothing but words in a book. You may think that elaborate mechanism of government is your security — it is nothing at all, unless you have sound and uncorrupted public opinion to give life to your Constitution, to give vitality to your statutes, to make efficient your government machinery. [7]

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Last Updated: 01-Jan-2002