November 04, 2011

When acquittal still gets you a life sentence

To really appreciate how debased our legal system has become, one has to go no further than to read this news report by Carol Rosenberg of The Miami Herald about the pending trial of a person accused of involvement in the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.

The U.S. military tribunal for the USS Cole bombing suspect has no power to free a captive found innocent of war crimes but shouldn’t be told the terror suspect could be held for life anyway, Pentagon prosecutors said in a court document made public Wednesday.

Defense lawyers want the judge presiding at the death-penalty trial of Abd al Rahim al Nashiri to notify would-be jurors that acquittal of war crimes won’t necessarily mean the Saudi-born captive walks free from the U.S. prison camps at Guantánamo.

It's bad enough that the rules of the military tribunal are such that if the accused is found guilty he can be executed, but if he is acquitted the Obama administration can still imprison him for life. But the administration does not even want the jury (consisting of all military officers) to be told this piece of information, probably fearing that they may not want to participate in what is a kangaroo court or a show trial that were emblematic of some of the worst governments in history.

Scott Horton of Harper's Magazine quotes Robert H. Jackson, a Supreme Court justice then on special leave to handle the prosecutions at the Nuremberg trials who said, "The ultimate principle is that you must put no man on trial under the forms [of] judicial proceedings if you are not willing to see him freed if not proven guilty."

But such quaint considerations of human rights and justice no longer apply. We decide first who is guilty and deserve to be punished and then have a trial to get that result.


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Well, Justice Robert Jackson was kind of a lunatic. He believed, for example, that if the U.S. ever committed war crimes, American leaders could be held to the same standards applied at the Nuremburg trials.

Posted by Uri on November 5, 2011 01:38 AM