Thursday, November 19, 2009

But What If They're Acquitted?


The Rule of Law

Apparently I need to stop watching U.S. Television. Or at least reasonable facsimiles thereof, because I keep getting embroiled in wasting braincells on the hyped up controversies of Cable News I was so happy to leave behind (to adopt the Thai versions, which involve more riots, and fewer words I understand).

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is going to stand trial in New York City, they say, before immediately following the most ancient rule of steady and intelligent journalism: Running in little circles of panic and shouting. (When your faced with danger, when beset by doubt, run in little circles, wave your arms and shout!)

I think it is a terribly damning statement of the culture America has let itself adopt that the biggest story of a news cycle when we're trying to get health care for the approximately seventy four trillion people in the U.S. who can't afford it is people losing their shit about Obama bowing to a diminutive Japanese figurehead and someone getting a normal trial.

Giuliani was on Fox News talking about how it is a terrible idea, that the terrorists can use this to recruit. I was frothing at the mouth for those statements, unchecked by fact or reason as they are, before he dropped the big whammy: "We don't often take criminals back to the scene of the crime."

Now according to the Golden God of Information, Wikipedia, Rudy Giuliani graduated cum laude from the New York University School of Law in 1968. But clearly this is a malicious lie made up by trolls on the internet wishing to smear the reputation of the NYU School of Law, because I find it hard to imagine that you could spend 3 years there, make law review, and receive a J.D. with honors and not have heard of a couple of things.

Like Juris-fricking-diction. You know, that thing where you tend to be tried in the same area you committed the crime in, jackass? If I murder someone in Denver they normally don't send me to Portland for the trial!

Now, as my brother will be quick to point out, there are circumstances where you do move jurisdiction, such as when it can be proven that a defendant will not be able to get a fair or impartial trial in the area he should be tried in, necessitating the change to an area where they can. And had Rudy been arguing this point, that the likelihood of Sheikh Mohammed getting a totally impartial trial in New York is somewhere between 'My bed turning to solid gold in the next twenty minutes' and 'Me waking up in the morning in the body of a 75 year old German woman named Gertrude von Hohffensteffen', I would have respected him for it. As it stands, however, it strikes me as both a particularly moronic bit of political grandstanding and a particularly damning review of the legal curriculum at NYU.

But my favorite argument came, unsurprisingly, from the actual paid commentators of Fox News. Aside from the 'turning New York prisons into terrorist training camps' trite, my absolute favorite was run several times along these lines: 'What if he is acquitted' or 'What if it's thrown out for technicalities'. Because what it boils down to is 'What if we've fucked up so badly we don't get to kill him?'

We've had this guy since 2003, and we have him on record admitting that he was part of it. If we can't build a case that will stand up to cross examination, or if we blow this because we don't follow the rules, then we deserve to lose. We've had him for six years, people, and the government isn't that incompetent.

But more than that it bothers me we have to make this argument at all. You can't argue that someone shouldn't have a trial just because someone might not be found guilty, or we don't have a rule of law. I can even understand the necessity of military courts and tribunals, but I also think it's important to keep in our minds that the military tribunal should not be the first and most common court of the land. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed doesn't represent a recognized nation, state or army, and no state of war existed when his crimes were committed. It may well have been an act of war but first and foremost it was an attack on the citizens of this country in general and of New York City in particular, and it is in the name of those citizens that the trial should be held.

And all philosophical points aside, what do you think the odds are that a group of New Yorkers is going to find him not guilty in a building mere blocks away from Ground Zero? And, as John Stewart pointed out, what do you think would happen if he was found not guilty and they had to let him out on to the streets of New York City? There isn't a jurisdiction, a judge or a jury in America that would find him innocent. We could send Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to a trial by jury in the leper colony on island of Molokai, Hawaii and he would still get the chair. And when he goes in to prison, do you think its' more likely that he'll start a new gang, or get shanked in the prison yard? Let's be real here, people.

If we blow this case because we try to bend the rules then we deserve all of the scorn and dire consequences that will follow. The best way to combat the lies and hate spread by these terrorists is to give them this trial, to follow every law and procedure and inane little dance so that everything is above the board. Let them be shown that the American legal system works and extends its protection even to the lowest scum before they're found guilty in the single fairest trial we have ever produced. Let's show the world that the Rule of Law still has a place in America.

Because that is what this is about. This is the proper place to try him, in the court of the People. An open court, subject to oversight and regulation, not a shadowed council behind locked doors. We will not be judged based on how well we uphold that rule to the criminals we like, but to the ones we would like to string up from a tree. And if we don't do this, if we hide or lie or shadow ourselves on this issue, then we deserve the consequences. You cannot argue someone should not get their fair trial because they might get off, because then you don't have the rule of law. Then you have star chambers, and secret councils, and shadowy tribunals, and all of the things that should scare the shit out of people, as opposed to whether or not Obama is a socialist. Because if we give up this we have a lot of things, but they aren't American, and they certainly aren't Just.

1 comment:

  1. Shanked in the yard is my bet here.

    Oh and total agreement on the bs storm about Obama bowing (a half bow I might add) to the japanese guy. It seems just as rediculous as the whole 'what is Hilary wearing or what is her most recent hair disaster' but more importantly much more distructive because people are taking it seriously.


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