Reagan Aides Plan Strategy for Draft Prosecutions
Washington--Top White House and military officials held a secret strategy session last month in which they discussed methods of diminishing the political fallout that would result from the prosecution of young men who have failed to register for the draft.
A transcript of the conference, which was obtained last week by The Washington Post, indicated that the conferees--who included Presi-dential adviser Edwin Meese III, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, and Selective Service Director Thomas K. Turnage--were concerned that the trials could serve as a rallying point for college-campus activists, including those who belong to the anti-nuclear movement.
"I think we ought to proceed really cautiously on this particular point," said John S. Harrington, assistant secretary of the Navy for manpower. "I think the cases should be quiet; and pick the right jurisdiction so you don't end up in New York or Chicago; and end up in Omaha or somewhere like that for your first few trials," Mr. Harrington said.
"Not the District of Columbia," Mr. Weinberger added.
Selective Service Director Turnage then pointed out that "there can't be any selective prosecutions, but I understand that there is prose-cutorial discretion, and I have got some names."
Mr. Turnage was referring to a list of approximately 200 alleged draft resisters, 100 of whom were initially scehduled for investigation for possible indictment last November.
That month, President Reagan ordered the Justice Department to halt its efforts to investigate the alleged nonregistrants pending his final decision on the continuation of the registration program. While campaigning for the presidency, Mr. Reagan strongly opposed the registration program, which was instituted by former President Jimmy Carter during the summer of 1980.
Last January, however, Mr. Reagan reversed his position and ordered all men who had failed to sign up for the draft to do so by Feb. 28 or face the consequences.
Failure to register for the draft is a felony that carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a $10,000 fine, or both.
Currently, young men are required to sign up for the draft within 30 days of their 18th birthday. The Selective Service estimates that approximately 500,000 young men have failed to register, although anti-registration groups claim that the figure is closer to one million.
Participants at the April strategy session also expressed interest in seeking legislation that would prevent nonregistrants from receiving federal student assistance.
Earlier this month, the Senate voted in favor of such a measure as part of a multi-billion-dollar authorization bill for the Defense Department.
The measure, co-sponsored by Senators Mack Mattingly, Republican of Georgia, and S.I. Hayakawa, Republican of California, was included as an amendment to the bill. Under the proposal, men requesting financial aid to attend college would be required to inform the Secretary of Education that they had indeed registered for the draft.--T.M.