Saturday, March 31, 2007

On justice and bitter, bitter irony, Part II

Last year in this post, I said this with regard to the Moussaoui verdict's actually being a judgment on the alleged justice pursued by our government in this post-9/11 era:

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.
Ten months later, we have had the examples of Jose Padilla, of David Hicks, of people held indefinitely with no charges brought against them and no right to see evidence against them once charges are brought, of evidence specifically documenting interrogations that--wouldn't you know--goes missing when judges ask to see it, of "the worst of the worst" given 9-month jail sentences and have gag orders and have to surrender the right to bring civil or criminal charges against the government for having been tortured . . . and of a President and Vice-President who have had a law passed that grants them immunity from prosecution for war crimes but which grants them the right to hold any U.S. citizen indefinitely and without charges.

Today, Andrew Sullivan links to and quotes from an article in the Wall Street Journal that . . . well, just how bitter do you like your irony?:

When the Pentagon needed someone to prosecute a Guantanamo Bay prisoner linked to 9/11, it turned to Lt. Col. V. Stuart Couch. A Marine Corps pilot and veteran prosecutor, Col. Couch brought a personal connection to the job: His old Marine buddy, Michael "Rocks" Horrocks, was co-pilot on United 175, the second plane to strike the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

The prisoner in question, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, had already been suspected of terrorist activity. After the attacks, he was fingered by a senior al Qaeda operative for helping assemble the so-called Hamburg cell, which included the hijacker who piloted United 175 into the South Tower. To Col. Couch, Mr. Slahi seemed a likely candidate for the death penalty.

"Of the cases I had seen, he was the one with the most blood on his hands," Col. Couch says.

But, nine months later, in what he calls the toughest decision of his military career, Col. Couch refused to proceed with the Slahi prosecution. The reason: He concluded that Mr. Slahi's incriminating statements - the core of the government's case - had been taken through torture, rendering them inadmissible under U.S. and international law.

The Slahi case marks a rare instance of a military prosecutor refusing to bring charges because he thought evidence was tainted by torture. For Col. Couch, it also represented a wrenching personal challenge. Laid out starkly before him was a collision between the government's objectives and his moral compass.
What to say? Col. Couch behaved legally and most honorably besides, but the larger point is surely that if our government had also behaved honorably, it could now be legitimately trying an almost-certainly guilty man. Instead . . . now what?

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