December 25, 2001 11:00 pm

Many of our political leaders are having a hard time stomaching the idea that foreign nationals should be subject to questioning by the FBI if they are suspected of being involved with terrorism. Instead they are hiding behind weak legal opinions on the part of attorneys who are out of step with the majority of their peers.

The case in point is what has occurred in Portland. Mayor Vera Katz has used the opinion of the city attorney to refuse to allow Portland police officers to conduct interviews with foreign nationals as requested by the FBI.

Others have expressed concern that America may be giving up some of its constitutional rights. American Civil Liberties Union attorneys are also questioning the idea that the federal government should have the right to hold or detain or question foreign nationals.

Many are concerned about the proposed military tribunals that may be established by presidential order to try individuals who are indicted for acts of terrorism. These people again are concerned that we might be giving up some of our rights.

We would agree with them if for only one thing: those who are being questioned, detained or arrested are foreign nationals. They are individuals who are in America as guests. Our government has a right to terminate those visitation rights at any time. In the case of the safety of American citizens, there is nothing wrong with questioning and ejecting a foreign national.

When we visit another nation, we should expect the same kind of potential treatment. In many situations, Americans who are visiting a country can be asked to turn over their passport while there.

If a situation arose in some other nation similar to what happened on Sept. 11 and the act of terrorism was carried out by a group of Americans, then we should expect that countrys government might wish to question Americans who are visiting as guests. The Americans can either cooperate or be willing to leave the country upon request.

We are not aware of any guarantee for foreign nationals when visiting America. And yet, we go to great lengths to help the vast majority of our visitors feel at home. Why? Because we are a country of immigrants. Wave after wave of foreigners have landed on our shore and made the effort to become American citizens.

After a couple of generations, those who were once immigrants are now citizens who become concerned about security and safety.

As long as we make sure that we are not compromising the freedoms of each American citizen, we should work to keep our country as safe and secure as possible.

We should be polite and work to make foreign nationals feel welcome in America. But we should feel no obligation to offer them all the same rights as American citizens.