Thursday, November 18, 2010

Dirty Deeds, Done Dirt Cheap

Ahmed Ghailani lost in Federal court. And, of course, the media dashes to the exits to pronounce him a winner.  Even as I grow more disgusted with the dregs celebrating the collapse of the American experiment in justice, democracy and the rule of law, I wonder.  Do these cretins honestly not get it?  Or are they just so subsumed with hatred, and so captivated by the concept of 'the other' that they honestly cannot see the course they have chosen.  

How many times does it have to be said?  How hard, really, is it to grasp?  Ghailani is not a soldier.  He is a criminal.  There IS no war.  There is no army, no capitol to take, no government to depose, no identifiable enemy, just a few hundred trans-national criminals to be prosecuted, convicted and sentenced.  All within the simple day-to-day process of a functioning democracy.  But when it all goes off the rails, when we violate our own laws and adopt the very methods of those we are fighting, when we choose to fight criminality not with the rule of law, but with more, and more vicious criminality, we find ourselves caught in a bind of our own making.

We must realize that it would have been a simple matter to convict Ahmed Ghailani on all these charges if we had followed our own time-proven rules.  He was NOT acquitted because the prosecutor failed, or the Federal Courts somehow were unable to deal with the magnitude or character of his crimes.  Pay attention now, this is important.  He was acquitted of most of the charges because WE TORTURED HIM.  Those statements are NOT admissible in a trial.  We, as Americans, used to be very clear on why that is important, and why coerced testimony cannot be allowed.  Now, frothing at the mouth, we wonder why this criminal defendant was acquitted of the murder and terrorism charges against him, ignoring the fact that he WAS convicted of conspiracy for which he will spend decades, if not the rest of his natural life, in prison.  We demand Military Tribunals, a system of justice that has a poor track record for convicting terrorist defendants and little global respect, over a system that somehow managed to render a harsh verdict and maximally punish a mid-level terrorist operator for crimes committed DESPITE the fact that the American government found it expedient to torture him and hold him illegally for years in detention without charge or due process.  I'd have to say that's an amazing and somewhat disconcerting accomplishment all on it's own.

And yet the politically motivated outrage comes screaming in from every speaker, from every screen, from every paper.  It's not good enough that we captured him.  It's not near enough that we held  him, and tortured him, and interrogated him and in the end prosecuted him and convicted him.  Oh no.  That the courts that acquitted him on the terrorism charges did not have the capacity to accept coerced evidence proves they are simply not up to the job.  We need to try terror suspects in a venue that will ensure their conviction, no matter what has been done to them in our names.  What if Ghailani had been found not guilty of all charges?

And that is, ultimately, the key question.  I submit that we have become cowards, too afraid of the wrath of one man to live up to our own values, and we would have been seen by the world for what we are.  It is one thing to hold people in detention without trial or due process for years, but it is another thing altogether to put one of those detainees on trial, have him found not guilty and still refuse to release him. What do you suppose we have learned about the future of the Guantanamo detainees, and our belief in our system of justice?  We know our justice system works, not because of Ghailani's conviction, but because of the hundreds of not guilty verdicts.  And sadly, disgustingly, it is precisely because the system is so good at rendering justice that it is clearly too politically risky to allow it to be used going forward.  But even the Military tribunals have rules against coerced evidence, and they all will have to operate under the minimum mandates in the Constitution.  And so, in the dawn of a new era, call it the "Sovietization" of America, we now have our own set of political prisoners we can't try and we won't release.  And I miss living in a country that I was proud of.


  1. Scott Horton made some good points, as well.

    It was G.W.Bush and company, ignoring the rule of law (not to mention international treaties) who screwed everything up.

  2. It's a pretty sad and bizarre situation. There's so much culture out there insisting you have rights and I guess now you don't.

    Can't say I'm gonna do a lot of flying in the US in the future either.

  3. Obama's been nearly as bad, and in some ways even worse. The UNCAT requires the investigation and prosecution of torturers. Obama has ignored his (our) responsibility under the treaty.

    It's just not enough for him to stand up and say I won't allow it. That's great. But not only have you done nothing to prevent a future President from torturing and killing, you have enabled him or her to do so by demonstrating so clearly that there will be NO consequences...