Sunday, February 14, 2016

That's exceptional, America! -- the justice edition

That's exceptional, America! -- the justice edition

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Speaking of Muslims, an Islamic terror suspect was tried in an American courtroom, before a jury, with well-established rules of evidence, including some that could not be admitted because of Bush-era torture tactics. The jury found for acquittal on almost all of the charges but still found enough evidence for a conspiracy rap that will put the suspect away, probably for the rest of his life. Upholding the sacred U.S. Constitution AND locking away a terrorist for life? Folks on the political right should be ecstatic! Yeah, right.

As expected, Glenn Greenwald has the best take:

But the most important point here is that one either believes in the American system of justice or one does not.  When a reviled defendant is acquitted in court, and torture-obtained evidence is excluded, that isn't proof that the justice system is broken; it's proof that it works.  A "justice system" which guarantees convictions -- or which allows the Government to rely on evidence extracted from torture -- isn't a justice system at all, by definition.  The New Yorker's Amy Davidson made this point quite well today:

 

Let’s be clear: if time in the extra-judicial limbo of black sites, and the torture that caused some evidence to be excluded, makes prosecutors’ jobs harder, the problem is with the black sites and the torture, and not with the civilian trials that might eventually not work out quite the way everyone likes. It’s a point that bears some repeating.  Our legal system is not a machine for producing the maximum number of convictions, regardless of the law.  Jurors are watching the government, too, as well they should. Ghailani today could be anyone tomorrow.

It's supposed to be extremely difficult for the Government to win the right to put someone in a cage for their entire lives, or to kill them.  Having lived under a tyranny in which there were very few barriers impeding the leader's desire to imprison or otherwise punish someone -- and having waged a war to escape that oppression -- the Founders designed it this way on purpose.

It would be nice if civil liberties' buffs, like me, could be ecstatic about the handling of the Ghailani case, but it's not that easy. The truth is that even if Ghailani had been found innocent on all charges, he still would have been held behind bars indefinitely as an enemy combatant, one of the many bastardizations of the American rule of law that the Obama administration has clung to or even enhanced. Still, we'll award some partial credit for a partial victory for a U.S. system of justice that, when it works, actually can be exceptional.

Bonus No. 1: Talking Points Memo has a good roundup of the reaction, right and left.

Bonus No. 2: On the American exceptionalism front, especially as it relates to the Palin '12 bandwagon, there was a great op-ed on the subject today in the Washington Post by Matt Miller -- check it out.

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Will Bunch
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