I'm kidding of course, but it never ceases to amaze me when our "objective" journalists engage in a little faux-populist contempt for the very institutions that make America a democracy -- institutions like fair trials. Yesterday, Wolf Blitzer slathered himself in red meat demanding to know why former Judge Advocate General Col. John Galligan (Ret.) was defending Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan as his counsel:
Before the interview ended, the CNN anchor said of Hasan, "I'm sure he will get a much fairer hearing than those 13 Americans who were brutally gunned down the other day. I'm sure he will get all of the rights that are applied by the military code of justice."
Galligan bristled. "The difficulty that I have, of course, is when people end discussions with me with references like the one that you just made."
The implication of course, is that for some reason Hasan should be denied a fair trial because of the nature of the crime. This is Salem Witch Trial justice: If the crime is heinous, the accused is automatically guilty. That the evidence may be overwhelming doesn't matter: You don't just "skip" a fair trial because you feel like it. There's a word for systems of justice that selectively afford due process -- that word is "corrupt."
Part of the reason this kind of commentary disturbs me so much is that the Bush administration made a deliberate effort to tag all the prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay as "the worst of the worst" -- and since they were all incorrigible terrorists, they didn't need fair trials. Of course, 750 detainees have been released from Guantanamo, and the released have a recidivism rate of about four percent. Now either the Pentagon has developed some magic formula for reducing recidivism that ought to be shared with the people who run our criminal justice system, or the folks at Guantanamo aren't actually "the worst of the worst."
There was a time though, where that claim went unquestioned. And during that time, it was the JAGs, the military lawyers, whose reverence for the American system of justice caused them to defy the Bush administration and push for due process rights for their clients, who were believed to be terrorists by much of the country, because that's exactly what the president was telling them. Opinions like that one Blitzer expresses above were everywhere. And of course, it turned out that most of the people detained at Guantanamo weren't guilty of anything (with some important exceptions) -- not that we've been any less willing to toss out our own system of justice when it comes to trying people suspected of terrorism.
As Thomas Paine put it:
An avidity to punish is always dangerous to liberty. It leads men to stretch, to misinterpret, and to misapply even the best of laws. He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.
Frankly, we ought to be thankful that people like Col. Galligan exist. Because I don't know what our society would look like without them. I'm not even actually sure Blitzer was being sincere -- I suspect he was just trying to show everyone what a patriotic American he is. Instead, he showed contempt for the very institutions that make this country what it is.
-- A. Serwer
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