"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Through the Looking Glass Award Reinstated (Updated)

I haven't done this one in a long time, mostly because there are so many candidates that no single example sticks out, but it seems I have to give a group award to the right-wing noise machine on the whole Ghailani "controversy."

Just to bring you up to speed, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, an accused terrorist involved in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, was convicted on 1 count of 285 in a civilian court, and now faces 20 years to life in a maximum-security prison. Most of the charges were insupportable because the evidence was obtained under torture, which makes it inadmissible in court.

First, here's former governor George Pataki on Hardball:

MATTHEWS: Can anyone say that the outcome would have been different in a tribunal?

PATAKI: Well, I certainly believe it would have and I hope it would have. But the professor`s recent rant is exactly what`s wrong with the whole idea of trying these murderers in a civilian court system. He just talked about not the fact that this person was intimately involved in the murder of 224 innocent civilians, including 12 Americans, but he goes after the Bush involvement in enhanced interrogation. This should be about, was this person a murderer and a criminal and a terrorist...

SMERCONISH: But Governor...

PATAKI: ... not about our system of law.

SMERCONISH: Governor, respectfully...

PATAKI: We need to protect ourselves!

SMERCONISH: ... I need to ask you -- I`ve got to ask you an evidentiary question, though, Governor.


SMERCONISH: Is it so clear to you, sir, that this evidence would have come in in a tribunal? Because it`s certainly not clear to me.

PATAKI: Well, Judge Kaplan in a footnote said he had reservations about whether or not it would, and that`s perfectly understandable. But the whole point here is that we should never be having these trials in the first place. We tried that after 1993, when the towers were bombed the first time. We brought criminal proceedings in the civil justice system against those terrorists who were responsible for murder. And what was the growth (ph) of that? September 11.

SMERCONISH: Professor...

PATAKI: And now we have captured foreign combatants. This person was captured in Pakistan after being intimately involved in the murder of 224 people. We shouldn`t have to listen to the propaganda about how what the United States did was wrong.

That one comment -- "We need to protect ourselves!" -- says it all. Wimp.

Liz Cheney, Bill Kristol, and Deborah Burlingame, as quoted by Daphne Eviatar:

"Bad ideas have dangerous consequences," said Liz Cheney, Bill Kristol and Debra Burlingame, directors of Keep America Safe, an organization dedicated to undermining Obama national security policies. "The Obama Administration recklessly insisted on a civilian trial for Ahmed Ghailani, and rolled the dice in a time of war," they said in a statement released after the verdict on Wednesday. "It's dangerous. It signals weakness in a time of war."

So an open, fair trial conducted under the standards imposed by the U.S.Constitution is a "bad idea." As Eviatar points out:

Really? The notion that it's a weakness to provide a fair trial in an established and respected justice system where the verdict is not pre-ordained seems rather odd. Is it "reckless" to rely on our Constitutionally-mandated jury system to determine whether an accused man is guilty or innocent?

Ever since this trial started, critics of the Obama administration have used the case to score political points. But they've taken it in a particularly disturbing direction. The claim that trying Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani in a federal court is "rolling the dice" exhibits a shocking disdain for the American Constitution and justice system.

What the hawks want is trial by military tribunals. Let's let Jonathan Turley, also on that segment of Hardball linked above, comment on that:

TURLEY: That`s right. We`ve had hundreds of trials. I`ve been counsel on terrorism cases. We have an entire system that tries terrorism cases. We tried the blind sheik and convicted him and gave him life. We have a system that works very, very well. But the governor`s problem in this case is not just with the judge, but 12 citizens that looked at this evidence and said, We don`t buy most of these counts. But he was still convicted...

Military tribunals have managed to come up with four -- count 'em, four -- convictions of accused terrorists.

(A note here: read that Hardball transcript -- it's absolutely amazing. If you want to take the time, here's the video:

The real honors go to Rep. Steve King (R-Black Hole of Calcutta). Here's Jonathan Turley again, from his own blog:

In a truly disturbing response to the verdict, Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) denounced the jury verdict as “a total miscarriage of justice” and insisted “this tragic verdict demonstrates the absolute insanity of the Obama administration’s decision to try Al Qaeda terrorists in civilian courts.” Of course, no one would accuse New Yorkers as being ambivalent on terrorism.

Nevertheless, Rep. King’s solution to a jury of citizens acquitting an accused person is to rig the system to avoid such juries in the future. It is the most raw demonstration that the interest in the tribunal system is the view that it is outcome determinative and pre-set for convictions. Rep. King appears to be joining the Queen of Hearts that we must have a system that guarantees “sentence first, verdict afterwards.”

Let's set aside the obvious disconnect with reality suffered by those who favor the tribunals for these trials (for crying out loud, people, they don't work!), and look at what Turley and Eviatar have pointed out: These people not only don't like the American system of justice, they want to get rid of it, while holding themselves up as true patriots who want to keep American "safe."

My question is, who's going to keep America safe from them?

Update: As might be expected, Barbara O'Brien has an intelligent commentary at Mahablog:

Alas, conventional wisdom says the Dog is probably right — this will be the last civilian trial for terrorism suspects. The rest of the terrorism suspects at Gitmo very likely will be tried out of sight, and without the unpredictable factor of an impartial jury, so that the “correct” verdicts can be produced. Or, at least, that’s the theory. Glenn Greenwald says that the current rules governing military tribunals require exclusion of the same torture-obtained testimony that the civilian trial excluded.

What is that saying? Evil hates the light?

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