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I read at Netscape earlier today that the Pentagon has new rules for detainee trials:
The Pentagon has drafted a manual for upcoming detainee trials that would allow convicted terrorists to be imprisoned or put to death using hearsay evidence and coerced testimony
It should come as no shock to anyone who's read my blog for more than fifteen minutes that I find this appalling, and I figure the reasons should be obvious to all but about 30% of Americans (give or take 3-5%.)
I've tried to come up with a different way of thinking about this, to illustrate why I am so appalled, and why I wish 100% of Americans were appalled, as well.
The short version is: just because someone is accused of a crime, they are not automatically guilty.¹ Don't forget that as long as America has existed, the accused have been given the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty by the prosecution.
As long as courts have existed, there have been basic rules of evidence and conduct, to protect innocent people from being railroaded through by an angry mob or a prosecutor with a personal vendetta against the accused. "Hearsay" evidence is not permitted in courts because it can't be cross-examined, the accused doesn't have access to the accuser, and it can be created entirely out of whole cloth by a Kangaroo Court. What I see right now is my country setting up Kangaroo Courts all over the place, and I believe America is better than that.
For a longer version, let's look at this from a slightly different point of view:
Let's assume you travel to China for some reason, and you and a friend are picked up by their police force. You didn't do anything wrong, you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. It happens. You're not told why you are being detained, and you're not allowed to contact your family, an attorney, or the US embassy.
The authorities take you both into separate areas, and your friend is tortured for days on end. Eventually, he agrees with his captors that he heard you were plotting some terrorist act. He knows it isn't true, but he finally reached a point where he'd say anything to get them to stop torturing him. This is tragic, but it also happens.
So the police put you on trial, where they say that they have this confession from your friend, who has since mysteriously disappeared, taken to another location for his safety.
You can't rebut the hearsay testimony, but it's pretty clear and damning: he says he heard you plotting to blow something up. He even signed a document that supports his statements, including some scary specifics. Sure, it's for places you never talked about, but since he's not there, and because the government has decided to keep those details classified, you can't rebut or challenge that evidence, either.
You're found guilty, and eventually you're executed. All because you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and were not given a fair trial to prove your innocence.
I shouldn't have to say it, but of course I want the bad guys who want to hurt us brought to justice; but what we have right now under this plan isn't justice at all. It's tyranny, and it will do nothing to make America safer. If anything, these things fit an undeniable pattern that Islamic extremists can easily point out to their followers, and use to recruit a whole new generation of terrorists.
That's really important to keep in mind. I guess one could make a distinction between Americans and non-Americans, but that seems specious to me. Either we are a global leader in fairness and human rights, or we're not. Under our current administration, I fear that we are not.
Posted on January 18, 2007 at 04:50 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink