Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Archive for August 6th, 2008

Are US military tribunals fair?

Posted by sanityinjection on August 6, 2008

The big news today is the conviction of Osama bin Laden’s driver, Salim Hamdan, on terrorism charges in the first full military trial of a Guantanamo Bay detainee. I have seen a few articles on this, but (not surprisingly) I think the WashPost does the best job of presenting a complete picture of the trial:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/08/06/AR2008080601092_pf.html

There has been much concern expressed by civil liberties types about whether military trials will be fair to the defendants. These concerns are not totally without foundation. For example, the military tribunal considered statements Hamdan made during interrogation, which he was not warned could later be used against him. (A civilian criminal would have to have been read his rights, or “Mirandized”, and if he had not been, the statements would have been inadmissible in court.) However, the military judge did throw out certain statements made by Hamdan which he called “highly coercive”.

I find there is substantial evidence to suggest that the military is doing its best to conduct these trials fairly. Consider the following:

  • The defense had the opportunity to question and dismiss jurors just as in a civilian trial.
  • Defense lawyers were able to call eight witnesses to testify on Hamdan’s behalf, two of whom were permitted to testify in secret for their own protection, which is very rarely allowed in civilian trials.
  • Unlike in civilian criminal trials, where defendants are often represented by underpaid and undermotivated public defenders, Hamdan’s lawyers are experts with experience defending clients in military tribunals.
  • The verdicts did not come quickly but only after three full days of deliberation by the 6-person military jury.
  • Hamdan was convicted of “material support of terrorism” but acquitted of a more serious charge of conspiracy.
  • Contrary to international rumor, the charge Hamdan was convicted of carries a maximum sentence of life in prison and is not subject to the death penalty. There will be a sentencing hearing conducted very similarly to a civilian sentencing hearing.
  • Hamdan’s conviction is automatically appealed to a military appellate court. Following that, Hamdan’s attorneys can further appeal to the civilian federal Court of Appeals and even to the Supreme Court.

I doubt that Hamdan will get a life sentence. Even prosecutors acknowledge that Hamdan is a relatively small fish in the terrorist pond. That’s why they wanted him to be the first guinea pig.

Article here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/08/06/AR2008080601092_pf.html

Posted in Domestic News | Tagged: , , , | 9 Comments »

Another death penalty case in the news

Posted by sanityinjection on August 6, 2008

Submitted for your approval: The State of Alabama vs. Thomas Douglas Arthur.

I recommend this case to your attention because it runs counter to many of the criticisms often leveled at capital punishment in the US, concerning how it is applied. For example, we are often told that the death penalty is racist because it is mostly black criminals who end up on death row. Arthur is white.

We are also told that the judicial system, especially in the South, fails to protect the rights of defendants. In this case, Mr. Arthur was tried three times for the murder of Troy Wicker in 1982. The first two convictions were thrown out, not because there was any real doubt of Mr. Arthur’s guilt, but because of legal technicalities. After the third conviction finally stuck, Arthur was scheduled for execution three times, only to receive a stay of execution at the last possible moment each time.

This latest obstruction of justice comes courtesy of one Bobby Gilbert, another convicted murderer, who has sworn that it was he and not Arthur who killed Wicker. Arthur’s lawyers used this confession to win the stay of execution.

Only problem is, Wicker’s murder was a contract killing paid for by his wife Judy (who served 10 years of a life sentence for her crime.) Judy has steadfastly maintained it was Arthur she hired to kill her husband, and that she does not know Gilbert.

So what do we learn from this? You can commit murder and twenty-five years later they still won’t be able to execute you, as long as you can convince some other murderer already serving a life sentence to make up a false confession. Arguably, in this case at least, the Alabama courts have bent over backwards to safeguard Mr. Arthur’s rights. I shudder to think of the amount of taxpayer money that has been spent litigating Mr. Arthur’s endless appeals, not to mention his prison upkeep.

Bottom line: You can argue the case against the death penalty, and I can respect that. But please don’t try to tell me about how inherently unfair the system is to defendants, because there are plenty of other Thomas Arthurs in our prisons who have repeatedly gamed the system and made a mockery of the courts and of capital punishment.

Article here: http://abcnews.go.com/print?id=5487105

Posted in Domestic News, Politics | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »