Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Judge takes a stand.

The Daily Kos makes an excellent catch regarding the sentencing of the man who was caught trying to cross the U.S./Canada border with materials and plans to detonate a bomb at Los Angeles International Airport. The man, and Algerian, Ahmed Rassan, was sentenced to 22 years.

The most interesting part is the statement of the judge at the conclusion of the trial:
The message I would hope to convey in today's sentencing is twofold:

First, that we have the resolve in this country to deal with the subject of terrorism and people who engage in it should be prepared to sacrifice a major portion of their life in confinement.

Secondly, though, I would like to convey the message that our system works. We did not need to use a secret military tribunal, or detain the defendant indefinitely as an enemy combatant, or deny him the right to counsel, or invoke any proceedings beyond those guaranteed by or contrary to the United States Constitution.

I would suggest that the message to the world from today's sentencing is that our courts have not abandoned our commitment to the ideals that set our nation apart. We can deal with the threats to our national security without denying the accused fundamental constitutional protections.

Despite the fact that Mr. Ressam is not an American citizen and despite the fact that he entered this country intent upon killing American citizens, he received an effective, vigorous defense, and the opportunity to have his guilt or innocence determined by a jury of 12 ordinary citizens.

Most importantly, all of this occurred in the sunlight of a public trial. There were no secret proceedings, no indefinite detention, no denial of counsel. {emphasis switzer's}

The tragedy of September 11th shook our sense of security and made us realize that we, too, are vulnerable to acts of terrorism.

Unfortunately, some believe that this threat renders our Constitution obsolete. This is a Constitution for which men and women have died and continue to die and which has made us a model among nations. If that view is allowed to prevail, the terrorists will have won.

It is my sworn duty, and as long as there is breath in my body I'll perform it, to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. We will be in recess.
It is important to remind ourselves that during this entire post-9/11 period, the increased police powers and the questionable methods in dealing with terrorist suspects, the judicial system in this country has reacted not with excitement, but with concern over potential abuses of power.

The objections come not only from groups like the ACLU, but for the military's Judge Advocate General and respected jurists and lawyers. The administration is often operating in grey legal areas. Grey areas may work in the favor of a lawyer or their client, but the legal establishment does not care for grey.

In an institution based heavily on precedence and common, agreed-upon frameworks, ambivalence can pose serious threats. Equal treatment under the law is a Constitutional imperative, ambivalence and irregular rulings undermine that right.

- Murphy

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