Equality Means Making Hard Choices
Everyday we see more and more examples that make it appear as if America’s principles and ideas of fairness and equality are just words. We talk about equality but then say that certain men, men accused of terrorism or caught in the act of committing terrorism, are not entitled to a fair judicial hearing and should be prosecuted in a military court. The assumption is that a military court would guarantee a conviction and we can do without any semblance of a fair process. As the citizens of the United States, we take pride in our legal system that’s supposed to be the envy of the world.
The underwear bomber wasn’t simply trying to blow people up. He was actually trying to blow a hole in America’s sense of security. Had the Christmas Day flight from Amsterdam to Detroit blown up on its final approach to the airport, the shock wave would still be reverberating through our collective. You think getting on a plane is a hassle now? They couldn’t develop enough security procedures, machines, technologies, and personnel to make us all feel safe to fly again. A strip down and body cavity search would only be the first security measures to jump through at the ticket gate. If you’re suspicious looking, you’d get an MRI and an interrogation in a closed room with no lights or windows and a free dose of with sodium thiopental to help loosen your tongue up. And if you’re really suspicious looking, you just might disappear from the face of the Earth. Next in line please step forward and be judged! So the Christmas Day attack was an attack on America. All of us were the intended victim. All of us have a stake in assuring this man is prosecuted to the fullest extent of our laws.
One of the things we do to assure fairness in our judicial process is to remove the accused from an area where the potential pool of jurors is tainted. Our system is also designed so that we require judges to recuse him or her self in order to present a truly fair and impartial trial. If there is so much as a hint of someone having a vested interest in a verdict going one way or the other, that person is not allowed to participate in the judgment process. We don’t allow victims of an alleged crime to serve as jurors or judges in a trial of the accused. No doubt letting people who feel that they have been wronged participate in the judgment process would assure a guilty verdict, but any semblance of fairness would go out the window with the bath water. That’s why when selecting people for a jury pool, if someone said that they knew the victim or the perpetrator, if someone said that they believed that the perpetrator was guilty or innocent before the trial even started, chances are they’d be excused.
The underwear bomber was trying to hurt all of America. He has been described as an enemy combatant. He is an enemy of the state. And as such, his chances of getting a fair trial are severely limited when so many people are willing to throw his rights down the drain. So many American citizens feel entitled to judge this man before a trial can even begin. So many people say that he’s not entitled to a lawyer at the taxpayer’s expense. So many people would prefer to dispense without anything resembling a fair trail, railroad this guy through a kangaroo court, and simply get on with deciding his fate. No doubt, many people in this country would feel entitled to give this guy a death sentence. If terrorists are truly so horrible, it would seem that finding them guilty through a fully above board judicial process would be a slam dunk. But in these times of war who has the luxury of caring about fairness?
And so when the pool of people is so tainted, if so many people feel like a victim that it would be virtually a nil chance of having a fair trial, the defense is entitled to a change of venue. It should be painfully obvious that our political climate is such that it is impossible to give the underwear bomber a fair trial here in America. The defense should ask for a change of venue totally out of the country. And it should be granted. When it comes to this case in particular, there is as slim a chance as any that an impartial judge and jury can be found free of political influences to dispense the type of justice so many Americans are supposed to be so proud of. We fight these wars on terror to protect our beliefs and our Constitution. But let’s trash that shit here and now because we all know dude’s guilty as all hell.
Being a people of principles isn’t easy. It’s hard as hell. If it was easy everybody would be doing it. But like a victim of a crime who has to sit back and allow the wheels of justice to roll their conclusion, we should have enough faith in our system that we believe to be so fair. We shouldn’t be so quick to throw our principles away because we are the victim. We’re supposed to be above that.
But the truth of the matter is that our system of justice is just as flawed as the next guy. And it’s not because we don’t have principles. We have plenty of those. We simply chose when they apply and when they don’t. We might be a people who say we believe in equality and fairness. But when it comes times to put those pretty words into practice, we see that we allow our prejudices to manifest at the drop of a hat. And when such gaping holes of prejudice appear in our beliefs and the ideas that we hold self evident, it really is a no brainer to see that although we might be principled, our integrity really is lacking.