Thursday, November 18, 2010

Justice wins in New York terrorism trial

In the old western movies from the 40’s and 50’s, when they would try to hang the bad guy, someone would ask, “shouldn’t we give him a trial?” The answer that came back was often, “Good idea, then we’ll hang him.”

A jury in New York yesterday convicted Tanzanian Ahmed Ghailani of conspiracy and sentenced him to 20 years to life. He was a Guantanamo Bay detainee that is said to have helped plan the bombing of United States government buildings in 1998. He was moved to a civilian court in an attempted by the Obama administration to demonstrate that “terrorist” could be tried in civilian courts. They acquitted him of more than 280 other charges.

Representative Peter King, a New York Republican, said that a light sentence like that and acquittal on the other charges will not happen again because “the Republicans are now in charge” after the recent election. King is about ready to take over the chair of Homeland Security Committee.

It sounds like the old western again. “Oh, ya, will give him a trial then hang him.”

Keep in mind this wasn’t a jury selected from Chicago or Kansas City that haven’t felt the brunt of “terrorism” like New York City. [I will continue to use the word “terrorist” for a little longer, but these aren’t terrorist, they are common criminals that have been given a glorified name that makes them out to more than they are.] The jury was selected from the people of the city that has had the most trouble with terrorism. All New Yorkers that were alive when the towers were attack remembers the deep fear and anger that exploded inside of them on that day. But yet, they found him not guilty on a slew of charges. If anyone would want to simply give him a trial and then hang him, it would be them.

Could it be, it is daringly asked, Ghailani could be innocent on the other charges? Could it be that the government hadn’t made a strong enough case? Representative King said that the rest of the Gitmo detainees should be tried in a military court. Is that because he is just looking for a hanging and not justice?

The “terrorist”, to be called criminals from here on out in this post, win the most converts to their cause when the United States operates in secrecy. When the country does hold trial in private, all kinds of stories can be weaved about what is “really” happening. To hold trial in an open civilian court with all to observe, it is much more difficult to weave the tales.

But, even deeper as far as our culture and community are concerned, it is justice. In countries that do not hold true to the trilogy of justice; laws made by consensus, enforced by an independent executive and judged by an independent court system; open trial doesn’t and can’t happen. We only need to look at what happen in Iran in the past couple of months. Three people were held captive and not given the opportunity to challenge their case in open court. We all condemned the Iranian government for not properly holding hearings and presenting their case. How is it we can condemned them for actions that we might take on our own?

Just because Ghailani was acquitted on all but one of the charges, doesn’t mean the United State’s court system isn’t the right place for these common criminals. He is going to spend 20 years in prison. New York City wasn’t attacked as many said it would be. There wasn’t an attempt to break him out of prison.

In an honest and open system like ours, there is risk. Risk that someone may get off. But that is a far better risk then giving the enemy more ammunition by holding the trials in secret prisons far from any kind of justice.

The prison at Guantanamo Bay must close. Yes, that message is for all the Peter Kings of the country, but also for President Obama.

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