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Taking the Justice Out of the Justice System

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Posted on Aug 21, 2011
Paul Keller (CC-BY)

By Karen J. Greenberg, TomDispatch

(Page 3)

These cases and others like them have, of course, been fodder for all the usual critics who consider anything but a 100% conviction rate on all charges in all cases to be a sure sign not of the justice system’s strength, but of its fundamental weakness.  And yet, such cases have showcased just how effectively the system still works, in a more nuanced way than in the previous near-decade, as well as in a subtler and more just way than Washington has managed to approximate over that same period.  Despite the fears, pressures, and scare tactics that are entangled with all such terror cases, we now have living proof that juries can think for themselves, and guilt can be a partial matter, rather than a Washington slam-dunk.

Of late, federal judges on such cases also seem to have been signaling to the government’s representatives that they must be more restrained in their approach to national security cases, both in and out of court. In late June, for instance, during the sentencing of three of the men convicted of conspiring to bomb two synagogues in Riverdale, New York, and to launch a Stinger missile aimed at aircraft over Newburgh’s Air National Guard Base, Judge Colleen McMahon struck back at the government’s case.  “I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt,” she said, “that there would have been no crime here except the government instigated it, planned it, and brought it to fruition.  That does not mean that there was no crime. The jury concluded that you were not entrapped, and I see no basis to overturn their verdict.”

In the Drake case, Judge Richard Bennett was similarly distraught about the evident excesses in the government’s approach. At sentencing for the single minor count to which Drake agreed to plead, the judge bluntly refused to impose the $50,000 fine the prosecution was pushing for on the grounds that punishment had already been administered—prior to the court process. “There has been financial devastation wrought upon this defendant,” said Bennett, “that far exceeds any fine that can be imposed by me.  And I’m not going to add to that in any way.  And it’s very obvious to me in terms of some of the irritation I’ve expressed… not only my concern over the delay in this case… [but also the prosecution’s] inability to explain … the delay in this case… I think that somebody somewhere in the U.S. government has to say… that the American public deserves better than this.”

In the recent jury decisions, as in the growing expressions of judicial dissatisfaction, an optimist might find signs that the system is finally starting to right itself.  On the other hand, a pessimist might come to the conclusion that the government will, in the future, simply put even more energy into avoiding the court system.

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The bottom line is that the Obama administration, like its predecessor, defines success in terrorism prosecutions not by assessing whether or not due process and fair verdicts are administered, but solely in terms of what they deem proper punishment for those accused of violating national security—especially when doing so minimizes partisan political clashes. By refusing to rein in its evident distrust of the judicial system when it comes to national security, the government is perpetuating a legal landscape that, to this day, lies in the shadow of Osama bin Laden.

Karen Greenberg is the executive director of the New York University Center on Law and Security, a TomDispatch regular, and the author of The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo’s First One Hundred Days, as well as the editor of The Torture Debate in America.

Copyright 2011 Karen J. Greenberg


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By Real Law, January 23, 2012 at 3:45 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Concerning the American justice system and the police, I am sure that; The American justice system and the police are your enemy and are not to be trusted under any circumstance whatsoever must be taught in schools, and especially to every African American child.

A portion of what is happening is a movement creating

1. Alternatives to American law schools, taught only by individuals who have had to learn to do real law for themselves and have won.  Those who have had to do real law for themselves and should have won but did not.  Reading the information compiled in these pages, you will see it is not a chance worth taking to have to learn from the vast majority of individuals who are teachers in law schools, and those who have graduated from law schools and are practicing members of the American justice system. 

2. A system of information; one that gives to every African American and to anyone who wants, readily accessible information about every police officer in this country, every lawyer, attorney, judge, all elected officials.  A system just like the one the police use to look up all information on you.  With all the technology we have today, that can and must be done, especially in African American communities.  It is simply a matter of survival.

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By JMD, August 24, 2011 at 5:26 pm Link to this comment

Karen J. Greenburg:              8/24/2011            
      I find your posit very
interesting,informative and an astute observation
from a legal standpoint.
      Is it because,we as citizens do not remain
vigilante to what our politicians do,to us,that we
are where are today?To remain vigilante = do not
trust? The psychologists would have a field day with
that now,wouldn’t they? We can’t win for loosing.
Tom Engelhardt:
      I do remember the world before 9/11 and I
would be interested in asking all those who died
fighting in previous wars for this Country,“What was
it that they thought they were fighting and dying
for”? 
      Thanking you both for my comment to you -
      James M. de Laurier

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Lee Oates's avatar

By Lee Oates, August 24, 2011 at 9:20 am Link to this comment

Osama didn’t destroy America, the right-wing nuts and the unregulated, out of control corporations and corrupt handpicked judges, have destroyed America. They took advanage of Osama’s attack on the twin towers to create fear in America and to litterly take over the government, the military, and what is rapidly becoming America’s secret police policies, under the infamous Patriot Act.  The Republicans simply brought the country to a halt by voting no on every improvement Obama tried to make.

As a direct result, Americans have no decent medical care, a shrinking middle-class, high unemployment, losing their homes and pensions, and environmental degradation. Wealth is being transfered to the small rich elite and poverty is rapidly increasing.

Our prisons have become a booming industry, and we have the largest percentage of jailed citizens in the world.  Our personal freedoms and our right to express our opinions are under attack.  Torture and jailing without trial have become acceptable if not normal practices. And lastly we have invaded two countries, and are going broke because of it.  America is not the country it was when I was young in the 1940’s. 

Like I said earlier, Osama did not destroy America, we did by electing all the wing-nuts into office and allowing corporations to gain control of the country.

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Lee Oates's avatar

By Lee Oates, August 24, 2011 at 9:13 am Link to this comment

Osama didn’t destroy America, the right-wing nuts and the unregulated, out of control corporations and corrupt handpicked judges, have destroyed America. They took advanage of Osama’s attack on the twin towers to creat fear in America and to litterly take over the government, the military, and what is rapidly becoming America’s secret police policies, under the infamous Patriot Act.  The Republicans simply brought the country to a halt by voting no on every improvement Obama tried to make.

As a direct result, Americans have no decent medical care, a shrinking middle-class, high unemployment, losing their homes and pensions, and environmental degradation. Wealth is being transfered to the small rich elite and poverty is rapidly increasing.

Our prisons have become a booming industry, and we have the largest percentage of jailed citizens in the world.  Our personal freedoms and our right to express our opinions are under attack.  Torture and jailing without trial have become acceptable if not normal practices. And lastly we have invaded two countries, and are going broke because of it.  America is not the country it was when I was young in the 1940’s. 

Like I said earlier, Osama did not destroy America, we did by electing all the wing-nuts into office and allowing corporations to gain control of the country.

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By diamond, August 23, 2011 at 1:30 pm Link to this comment

“OK, tell me again why I should support Obama in ‘12. Oh, yeah, ‘cause we may get somebody in there that’s worse! What a pathetic, sick joke!”

Maybe so, but I can assure you that nobody will be laughing, including you, if the Republicans get anywhere near the White House in 2012. The horror they would unleash is almost beyond imagining.

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By SarcastiCanuck, August 23, 2011 at 11:16 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Yes America,you don’t need any enemies,you seem to slowly be killing yourself.You used to be the coolest dudes on the planet.What happened???

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By berniem, August 22, 2011 at 3:39 pm Link to this comment

OK, tell me again why I should support Obama in ‘12. Oh, yeah, ‘cause we may get somebody in there that’s worse! What a pathetic, sick joke!

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By felicity, August 22, 2011 at 10:01 am Link to this comment

ocjim - You left out clueless. The ‘professional’
terrorist (Osama etc.) launches an attack on an
‘enemy,’ waits for ‘retaliation,’ the bigger, the
better makes him a major player on the world stage. 
His new renown, of course, insures a huge increase in
the number of minions world-wide, ready and willing
to hop on his bandwagon.  Revenge, Retaliation,
Renown - the formula for successful terrorism.

The US answered the ‘call’ in spades - two wars, the
creation of a home-grown police state, and of course
the torture of (suspected) political prisoners (the
practice of which we once advocated should send Nazi
war criminals to their deaths.)

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By Jim Yell, August 22, 2011 at 8:50 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Well there are a lot of words here. Won’t mean much as long as people accept that they may control each others lives based upon their sole advantage.

I can tell you right now that justice doesn’t mean anything in this country. Being innocent means nothing. If you don’t have money or the ability to create crushing debt for yourself you can not defend yourself or your loved ones once they have been accused and arrested.

It is the same with Healthcare. There are no restrictions on the gouging that insurance and providers can get away with. We have a substantial collapse in income for most Americans and yet the premiums remain so high that a modest income can not even pay for regular check ups out of pocket. We have at lest for the moment government programs that provide some subsidy to payment, but in fact the price rises so that even with a subsidy the adjusted rate is high for most with incomes and beyond reach or really low income people.

When the Republicans or Democratic enablers attack the working poor they throw out the huge average income of Americans, which is disengenuous, as it includes the really huge incomes of a fraction of the population and they are so large that they cause the supposed center to be raised way above what the actual average person earns. Then they say why can’t they deal with it themselves?

Once I took a job that was barely above minimum wage and found myself working just as hard as ever, but without the money necessary to maintain transportation to work. I had no time payments and yet by the time I bought food, paid for basic car expense and utilities I had all of $50 to consider sort of descretionary spending. When my friend who made $150,000 heard me complain about my car repair and the number of repairs I needed beyond that which cost would be some hundreds of dollars and the immediate repair would cost $50 he wanted to know why I was complaining and didn’t just spend the $50. He was much in line with the tea party crazies and the glutinous super rich, who can’t understand why working people are mad. This whole mess was engineered by investment bankers and loan sharks who are now allowed to parade our streets as if they were just good business people. Much talk of returning to Relgion, but who is talking about reducing interest to the 3% reccomended by the Bible? Who is recognizing there is such a thing as usuary, which has become the legal actions of legal robbery?

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By Tobysgirl, August 22, 2011 at 5:26 am Link to this comment

The U.S.‘s goal seems to be to create as many terrorists as possible. But, if you stop to think about it, this is in the ruling class’s interests. Keep the populace scared and focused on bogeymen while you reduce them to scrounging for housing and food. And thinking that it’s a good thing for the wealthy to pay no taxes!

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By diamond, August 22, 2011 at 3:23 am Link to this comment

The American ‘justice’ system has always been a disgrace. The 14th amendment was passed to protect black slaves after the Supreme Court ruled that a runaway slave could not sue for his freedom because he was not a person but ‘property’. It didn’t help: the corporations and the Supreme Court then simply colluded to make an amendment that was meant to protect black Americans into something that protected corporations. This is why corporations are now classed as persons, because the corporations and the Supreme Court were able eventually to pervert the entire intention of the 14th amendment to give to corporations all the protections that were meant to protect black Americans and ensure that their birth in America made them citizens. Not content with making corporations people the lunatic right in America now wants also to claim that the 14th amendment which makes corporations people does not make Barack Obama an American citizen. There’s a long history of collusion between the Supreme Court and crooks and corporations. So much so that a banker proposed a toast to the Supreme Court in the thirties in which he called the Supreme Court the ‘protector of private property’. Which is precisely what it is. To its shame. Given this history the justice system is easily corruptible being firmly in bed with capital and capital’s wars, including the so-called War On Terror.

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By joentokyo, August 22, 2011 at 1:11 am Link to this comment

“Now that he’s dead we can say anything we like about him and not have to prove it.”

For example, we can say that he wasn’t already dead before our heroic mission to kill him.

His burial at sea means no one can prove it wasn’t him, or even if it was anybody.

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By Marian Griffith, August 21, 2011 at 11:54 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

@prisnersdilemma
—-This while literally millions come
into this country illegally. All of them seem to have no problem getting fake identification.
In addition millions of tons of drugs seem to have no problem making it across the
border each year.—-
It is a big border and most of it is not exactly densely populated. Not to mention a population that has let itself be deluded that it does not have to pay taxes and still receive the benefits of a strong government. And of course despite popular outcry, much of the country’s manufacturing and production (not to mention menial jobs like cleaning) relies or the near slave labour that is provided by these illegal immigrants. Of course there is an entire industry providing them with fake identification (this is capitalism after all, anything that can provide a quick profit will be employed beyond its braking point and never mind things like humanity or legality).

—-Yet, meanwhile this country has a greater percentage of people behind bars than any
other country.—-
That is because there is no longer a penal system but a prison industry. With too few people caring how prisoners are treated and government paying as if they are treated decently (and a populace tho does not care how others are treated as long as it can convince itself they are ‘other’) there is a lot of money to be made out of locking up people for as long as you can convince a judge and jury to do so. Plus, you get to use them for free forced labour, which you can contract out far from free to local municipalities.

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By Marian Griffith, August 21, 2011 at 11:41 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I have only one thing to add to this:
What makes ms Greenberg think that the politicians are still in charge of this country?
Representatives are elected on their ability to look good and deliver sound bites that others write for them, and for their ability to raise millions and hire the best spin doctors. Nowhere does being competent at, you know, governing enter the picture.
So we end up with a political class that is essentially a bunch of stand up comedians and that rely entirely on external advisors, who they appoint on the ‘independent advise’ of those who donated millions to their campaigns.
The French at least recognised this years ago and came within a hair of electing president a candidate who outright admitted to be a professional joker.

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By Misfiteye, August 21, 2011 at 8:18 pm Link to this comment

When one uses a crisis like a “New Pearl Harbor” to achieve long term goals, there is no incentive to resolve that crisis expeditiously.

We had to kill Osama.  He was too sick to be an effective bogeyman, we couldn’t bring him to trial, even the FBI said there was no physical evidence to link him to 9/11, and well it just wouldn’t look good to let him die of old age.

Now that he’s dead we can say anything we like about him and not have to prove it.

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prisnersdilema's avatar

By prisnersdilema, August 21, 2011 at 7:42 pm Link to this comment

Not really, it’s never been more clear….

Corporate crooks are above the law, the banks, big agri business, big Pharma, big
insurance companies, big oil….

They can lie cheat and steal,  murder children in their sleep from cancer, force millins
onto the street, bankrupt this entire country, and nothing happens. No justice
department investigation, no FBI investigation, no nothing.

But your searched down to the lint in your socks, every time you board a plane. Your
electronic footprint can be searched without a warrant. This while literally millions come
into this country illegally. All of them seem to have no problem getting fake identification.

In addition millions of tons of drugs seem to have no problem making it across the
border each year.


Yet, meanwhile this country has a greater percentage of people behind bars than any
other country.

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By ocjim, August 21, 2011 at 5:56 pm Link to this comment

It seems as though the Bush administration and the Obama administration studied all the possible responses to the 9/11 attack and came up with the most stupid, the costliest, and the most disruptive to American life and freedom of responses possible. Obama seems to have even heightened and re-determined the implementation of anti-terrorists activities to utilize the latest technology and spend the most money during the post-Bush era as well.

Obama now rules politically like Bush never smartly, except for eliminating bin Laden.

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By Sean Cunningham, August 21, 2011 at 4:46 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Unexpected damage? I hate to tell ya, but the damage America does to itself may be unexpected only by Americans.

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