Friday, May 05, 2006

On justice and (bitter, bitter) irony

(Cross-posted at Sine.qua.non)

School work has kept me away from "here" for a while; and, being that finals week is next week, it will some more; but I did want to add my two cents' worth to the commentary on the Moussaoui verdict.

I first of all confess to being a bit slow of study about some things--hence my puzzlement about why, not just with regard to the Moussaoui trial but also also 9/11-related cases in Europe, the U.S. has not permitted the really big fish it has in custody to testify in court in support of the prosecution's case. And, in the particular case of Moussaoui, I'd always thought the government's case was, to be charitable, weak: this man, despicable as he is, is to be put to death because, IF he had told what he had known, the government COULD HAVE prevented the 9/11 attacks? The defense (court-appointed attorneys working on behalf of a man who didn't want them working on behalf of him, by the way) made mincemeat of that argument just by calling attention to the information the government already had before 9/11 and yet did nothing about. I kept thinking, This is the best we can do with regard to bringing to justice those responsible for these heinous acts?

Then I read something by someone of quicker study than I, and all becomes a bit clearer to me.

Via Kevin Drum, Mark Kleiman over at Reality-Based Community provides a quick summary of Michael Isikoff's appearance on Hardball on May 3. Go and read, as they say.

Our nation wants to feel secure, which is as it should be. That sense of security will arise from at least two places: a competent government that holds itself accountable for past errors and shows its willingness to invest time, energy and money in getting things right--in every sense of the term "right"; the finding and prosecution (or, seeing as this has been called a "war," killing) of those responsible for planning and committing acts of terror. I'll leave the "competent government" part alone for now and concentrate on the latter: because we have tortured, or have had other nations torture, the men who really SHOULD be on trial for 9/11, our government has deprived us of a very large measure of the very justice it has promised all of us--and, obviously, the government deprives itself of the opportunity to offer us unmistakable evidence that it is seeking justice.

I agree with the verdict, and I agree with those who say that Moussaoui was wrong, that America DID win this one. But I would argue as well that the jury's verdict was also an finding against how our government has handled the (legal) prosecution of the war on terror. As with the prosecution of the continuing war in Iraq, administrative sanctioning of torture, extreme rendition, secret prisons, and all the rest have effectively disarmed our nation of one of our most important weapons: our system of justice.

So, to summarize: some few people somewhere are deriving satisfaction from beating the shit out of some prisoners in the name of or on behalf of the United States of America, but even whatever information they might gain from those prisoners can never be used in courts of law--except to prosecute those who conducted or sanctioned the torture in the first place. Meanwhile, in public we are asked to put to death a man whose importance to the 9/11 plot, from what I could tell, existed more in his own mind than in anyone else's, his knowledge of that plot notwithstanding.

In the matter of 9/11, our government has emasculated itself and our nation, swiftly and without anesthesia or suturing or, most ominously, disinfectant or antibiotics--and all in the quest for that cheap justice called vengeance . . . which now has deprived all of us of a far more legitimate justice we now can no longer have. Ever. As awful as the events of that day were, what I have just written grieves me even more.

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R. Sherman said...

Interesting take. I wonder, though, whether saying we've lost our system of justice takes it a bit too far. Indeed, the Moussaoui trial and verdict stand as evidence that our system indeed works, no matter how foul the accused may be. As you point out, the defendant didn't care about his trial or due process, one way or the other. He got due process because we wanted him to have it. The trial was for us. Not him.

The rest of this comment is taking up too much space, so I'll flop it over to "Musings."

Good post, and glad you're back.


John B. said...

Not that we've lost our system of justice, but that we've lost several chances to have real justice with regard to 9/11. We were able to have the Moussaoui trial at all because he was jailed here instead somewhere else hadn't been tortured.

R. Sherman said...

You're right I misread your post. I'm still thinking about the conclusion that we cannot have justice re: the others because of the way information may have extracted. The problem as I see it is that this experience, i.e. non-linear, state-sponsored or abetted, geographically diverse terrorism/war/criminal/whatever behavior is new to us. We still haven't really figured out how to combat it, even though we know who the perpetrators are.

You are also right that the difference here is that the defendant was found to be in the United States and the crime was committed here. Ergo, he was entitled to the protections of due process.

As to those captured overseas, are their actions crimes or acts of war? Both? Neither, but something else? Are they accused felons vs. enemy combatants? Are they lawful combatants or unlawful combatants. Is there really even a war? And what about the ones who are U.S. citizens? Traitors? POW's?

I don't have the answers, but those questions and the broader ones posed by your entry trouble me. I do know that we as a society have yet to develop a consensus about what's going on, under circumstances where the fight is against people who do not in any way share our common set of values.

You and I agree that torture, whether for sadistic amusement or to extract information is wrong. Our opponents do not. Suffice it to say, there's been a major paradigm shift since the days of everybody lines, our guys in blue, their guys in gray, and we have at each other. That has to be addressed in a manner that allows us to be true to who we, as a people, are and who we wish to be. That is we don't want and cannot sacrifice our soul to preserve our bodies, if you will.

I think the people charged with running this country have done us a disservice by not discussing these issues rationally, calmly, in spirit of what's best for all of us, both physically and for our ideals. Instead, everything on both sides of the aisle turns into a "gotcha" for politcal gain.

Anyway, sorry for the length of the comment.


fearful_syzygy said...

In lieu of any sort of more elaborate comment, allow me to respond to your post with a simple 'damn straight'.