Squaring the Culture

"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

11/19/2009 (5:14 pm)

On Trying KSM in Court

Lindsey Graham is not my favorite Senator by any means, but he demolished Erich Holder in this 4-minute exchange in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Listen:

The lawyers over at Power Line Blog have a pretty good analysis of this that, not coincidentally, concurs with my layman’s opinion. Holder’s attempt to defend the absence of Miranda rights for Osama bin Laden on the basis that his guilt “is so overwhelming” would not survive 5 seconds of scrutiny in any court in America, nor should it; he offered it because he was on the spot and had nowhere to hide. He was on the spot because Graham was clearly correct: if US courtroom standards apply to the 9/11 plotters, then they apply to all such detainees. Holder can’t have it both ways.

The Obama administration’s argument that they’re genuinely offering Kalid Sheik Mohamed a fair trial and full rights according to the rule of law is contradicted by their claim that the outcome is certain. If the outcome is certain, the trial is a show trial like the show trials of the Stalinistas in the 1940s’ Soviet Union. If KSM has full rights, the outcome cannot be certain. The juxtaposition of those two claims — rule of law, outcome certain — is the consequence of the Holder Justice Department having decided beforehand on other grounds that they were going to try KSM in federal court, and then justify the decision by whatever means they needed to manufacture.

So, on what other grounds did they decide that they were going to try KSM in federal court? I believe John Yoo, former Bush administration counsel and favorite whipping-boy of the insane left, gives us a clue when he describes what happened when we tried Zacarias Moussaoui in an American court:

For a preview of the KSM trial, look at what happened in the case of Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker who was arrested in the U.S. just before 9/11. His trial never made it to a jury. Moussaoui’s lawyers tied the court up in knots.

All they had to do was demand that the government hand over all its intelligence on him. The case became a four-year circus, giving Moussaoui a platform to air his anti-American tirades. The only reason the trial ended was because, at the last minute, Moussaoui decided to plead guilty. That plea relieved the government of the choice between allowing a fishing expedition into its intelligence files or dismissing the charges…

Prosecutors will be forced to reveal U.S. intelligence on KSM, the methods and sources for acquiring its information, and his relationships to fellow al Qaeda operatives. The information will enable al Qaeda to drop plans and personnel whose cover is blown. It will enable it to detect our means of intelligence-gathering, and to push forward into areas we know nothing about.

This is not hypothetical, as former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy has explained. During the 1993 World Trade Center bombing trial of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman (aka the “blind Sheikh”), standard criminal trial rules required the government to turn over to the defendants a list of 200 possible co-conspirators.

In essence, this list was a sketch of American intelligence on al Qaeda. According to Mr. McCarthy, who tried the case, it was delivered to bin Laden in Sudan on a silver platter within days of its production as a court exhibit.

Bin Laden, who was on the list, could immediately see who was compromised. He also could start figuring out how American intelligence had learned its information and anticipate what our future moves were likely to be.

Leftists historically love to use courtroom rules as a vehicle to produce documentary evidence regarding government “misbehavior” as they perceive it. This was the motivation behind the dozens of lawsuits filed against phone companies for cooperating with the Bush administration in eavesdropping on possible terrorists, as I discussed here more than a year ago.

Is there documentary evidence that leftists desire to be made public related to Kalid Sheik Mohamed? Oh, you betcha. They’re already investigating the CIA, but you can be sure that KSM’s attorneys are going to bring up the manner of his interrogation in order to invalidate his confession. What will follow will be a public trial of the Bush administration’s interrogation policy, carried out in the pages of the New York Times by reporters already known to be hostile to the Bush administration. Also, I’m willing to bet that the choice of venue was influenced by the Justice Department’s knowledge of the judicial habits of the panel of judges in that district; they’re expecting liberal interpretations of evidence rules requiring government disclosure. Count on it.

Is that the goal? To be sure, trying KSM and the other 9/11 plotters as criminals has been the misguided aim of the ACLU and other hard leftists for years. They claim to be defending the rule of law. The ideologically-driven selectivity of their idea of the rule of law notwithstanding, I accept this as at least a plausible goal of some of the less-well-informed dupes of the neo-Marxist left.

However, the better-educated of these folks harbor ulterior motives. If they attempted publicly to try Bush administration officials, they would surely trigger violent reactions, fueled by accusations of attempting to criminalize policy differences. They do want to criminalize those policy differences, as I discussed here and here, but I think they also fear the repercussions. So, they’ve chosen a less direct route; they’ll try the 9/11 plotters, but in a forum that allows those plotters to turn the trial into a trial of the Bush administration. That way, they can pretend they’re defending the rule of law while continuing to vilify the good men who protected us from terrorist attack from 2001 through 2008.

Never believe what leftists say about their intentions, especially when their defense is so utterly lame in the face of easily predictable questions.

09/29/2009 (4:56 pm)

A Little Opportunistic Admonition on the Occasion of the Defense of Roman Polanski

On the whole, I really don’t give a damn what famous people do, except as it affects the central affairs of the culture. I enjoy movies as literature or escape, but I do know the difference between the character in the plot and the actor in front of the camera (not to mention the director behind the camera and the producer behind the project,) and I try not to let my opinion of their loud but usually inconsequential off-screen idiocy affect what I think of the art in front of my face.

That said, the recent arrest of famous movie director Roman Polanski (Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown) after his having fled sentencing for a statutory rape conviction 30 years ago, followed by the mindless and unfortunate defense of said scumbag by certain media liberals, gives me an excuse to rehearse some of the fundamentals of American legal philosophy, fundamentals about which a truly astonishing number of people are completely clueless. When a case like this hits the public, we hear all sorts of blather from people whose sense of justice has been contorted by noble-sounding phrases they don’t understand any better than a cat understands cosmology. So, here we go, sensible answers to contorted blather:

Blather: The victim has forgiven him, so he should go free.

Nothing could be less relevant. American criminal law is not about obtaining retribution for the victim, nor about protecting the victim, nor anything about the victim. The branch of American law concerning victims obtaining compensation for losses sustained by the acts of others is called “tort law,” and is pursued in civil courts, not criminal courts. In American criminal law, the injured party is society. That’s why criminal trials are always called “the state versus [criminal’s name],” or “the county versus [criminal’s name],” not “[victim’s name] versus [criminal’s name].” The criminal is, by virtue of his or her acts, considered to have damaged society by committing acts designated by the legislature as criminal acts, and stands to be punished by society. The victim is important primarily for establishing the fact that a crime has been committed and for furnishing the details of that crime. Consequently, the victim has neither power nor right to stop the state from executing sentence on the criminal who injured him or her — particularly not, as in this case, after the criminal has been found guilty in court.

Blather: we should have compassion, because Polanski has been through so much.

Perhaps. Penalties for criminal acts are established by acts of the legislature, and they are usually established as a range of penalties rather than a specific penalty. For example, the penalty for armed robbery might be imprisonment in a maximum security facility for from 5 to 25 years, and a fine ranging from $1,000 to $50,000. The reason for the large range of possible penalties is so the judge, upon hearing the circumstances of the case, the defendant’s value to society, the unfortunate circumstances leading to the crime, or any other mitigating fact, can adjust the penalty to suit the need. In other words, the judge does have the power to change the outcome in response to things like how hard Polanski’s life has been, if he thinks that is relevant.

However, the judge does not have the power to punish the criminal less than the lowest penalty established by the legislature. Why? Because the legislature has not given him that choice, and it’s the legislature that establishes the law. If we really think the law should allow a person committing a particular act to go free if the circumstances are sufficiently heart-breaking, it is up to the legislature to specify that in the formation of the law. Once the law is established, if you really think the penalty is too harsh and should be less, the correct move is to write to your state representative and lobby for a change in the law. (You also have extraordinary recourse, like petitioning the governor for a pardon.)

Blather: We should forgive Mr. Polanski. This is the Christian thing to do. So, he should not be arrested.

Yes, we should forgive Mr. Polanski, inasmuch as he has sinned against us. Forgiveness is for the offended, and it’s necessary for their mental health (on the other hand, if he did not sin against me, I have neither need nor power to forgive.) We should also have a great deal of compassion for both the criminal, whose life has probably been ruined by the arrest, and the victim, whose life has usually been damaged by the crime, and also for the families of both. And we should continue to express that compassion as the criminal goes through the legal process of having the particulars of his crime established in court, and later through the process of paying the penalty for the crime.

Forgiveness and compassion are personal responses. Exacting a penalty for a crime is a social response. There is no conflict between them. One can forgive the criminal and still cooperate with the process of exacting the penalty for the crime. Cooperating with the state as it prosecutes the criminal does not constitute unforgiveness. Recall the philosophical position discussed in the first Blather/Response, above — the crime is committed against society, not against the victim. Recall the limits of the court system discussed in the second Blather/Response, above — the penalty is set by the legislature, not by the court, nor by the victim. If “we” are going to forgive the criminal, that option must be established by the legislature, or it will not be possible after the fact.

Blather: he didn’t really rape her, it was just statutory rape.

Don’t say this to my face, you’re likely to get something thrown at you. Like a fist.

First of all, the facts of this case, which are not in dispute, establish that despite all the alcohol and drugs there was no consent, so it really was rape. But beyond that, the theory of the law — with which I agree completely — is that children below a certain age are not capable of making sensible choices about sex. Their curiosity, their inexperience, their raging hormones, their unrealistic expectations, their delusions of immortality, their lack of moral maturity, all make them more easily susceptible to agreeing to things that more mature minds would recognize as dangerous and ill-advised. It is always the adult’s responsibility to steer the child (teenager) away from the danger. The adult failing in that responsibility is taking advantage of the teenager’s natural curiosity; that is the crime. The adult is the one who is supposed to know better.

Yes, I know that every teenager in existence insists that they’re fully capable of making sensible decisions about sex. They all also say they’re ready to drive a car; we all know what the safety stats say about that. The sheer inability to comprehend the dangers is part of the immaturity that the law recognizes.

Blather: It was 30 years ago. Isn’t there a statute of limitations or something?

There’s an excellent reason for statutes of limitations; peoples’ memories fade, and it becomes impossible to establish the facts of a case after several years have passed. However, those don’t apply here. The arrest was made, the prosecution took place, Polanski’s guilt was established in a court of law well within the limits of the statute. He just ran away before the court had a chance to pass sentence. So, no, there’s no statute of limitations. And it makes no sense to just let the guy go because he got away with not paying for his crimes for 30 years. That’s 30 years of pretending that the law didn’t apply to him; it’s high time that he was dispossessed of that illusion.

Blather: Polanski is a great artist, and has produced truly amazing art. He should not be arrested.

He also is a rapist, and contributed powerfully to producing an insecure society in which young women are not safe from predators. Polanski has been recognized for his art, and has grown wealthy from it. He should also eat the fruit of the other production I mentioned.

Insofar as you disagree, please reread Blather/Response item #2: the judge already has the power, granted by the legislature, to take the excellence of the man’s art into account when passing sentence. But he does not have the power to ignore the law.

Besides, do we really want to uphold the precedent that says that the laws that apply to the rest of us, do not apply to those who are rich, famous, or particularly good at what they do? Is it not the very essence of justice in a free society that everybody is equal before the law, regardless of their station?

Blather: everybody knows that child predators cannot be cured. We should lock him up and throw away the key.

There are a lot of different types of child predators. Some are very difficult to cure. None are impossible. The recovery rate from pedophilia is roughly the same as the recovery rate from drug addiction; a lot of the issues are the same. The law needs to be able to distinguish intelligently between different circumstances. The issues involving a 40-year-old man who routinely entices small children away from their mothers and keeps a houseful of snuff porn are different from the issues involving a 23-year-old who dates a 17-year-old, though both may be prosecuted under the same law. The law needs to be written to distinguish between them.

If there are particular pedophiles who are judged to be an ongoing danger to the community, that fact needs to be recognized by the legislature and incorporated into the law punishing those particular crimes. The current state of “Megan’s Law” enforcement and state sexual predator registration is abysmal, and ignores vital principles of liberty. Whatever laws we do make concerning child molestation, must conform to the boundaries of the Constitution.

Please feel free to add additional blather points in the comments, below, and I’ll be glad to give my opinion, or to listen to yours. I don’t care all that much about Mr. Polanski. I do care about the law.