We are brought up to believe that we live in a free society. That we as citizens have rights that protect us against actions taken by the government against us except in accordance with due process of law. That we are protected by rights conferred upon us as American citizens. That we have the rights under the Bill of Rights that were established by the founders of our country not to be forced to give testimony against ourselves; the right to be represented by counsel of our choosing; the right to a speedy trial. That we are protected against cruel and unusual punishments.
As events have developed since 2001, one must question whether or not we have these rights in theory only.
A great book to read is John Grisham’s “The Innocent Man”. It is his only nonfiction book. It tells the tale of five men convicted of rape and murder. Although DNA evidence subsequently established their innocence, only two were exonerated and three remain in jail for reasons that are simply inexplicable.
While on death row, one was housed for something like twelve years in a maximum security prison. His cell was located entirely under ground and he never saw the light of day. Suffering from mental illness he was purposefully antagonized by his jailers.
With the help of Barry Scheck’s Innocence Project, the DNA evidence that exonerated him was brought before the court. Even before that, a conservative federal judge had determined that he was entitled to a new trial because the proceedings that had resulted in his initial conviction had been unfair, and that there had not been a sufficient quantum of evidence to convict him.
In the outfall of the events of 9/11, the Bush administration authorized the use of extreme methods of interrogation that had previously been determined to be torture and that had resulted in the conviction and sentencing of persons for up to 15 years hard labor for the use of those methods.
Persons who had thought to have been associated with causing the events of 9/11, and related activities, were incarcerated in the US Prison at Guantanamo Bay, where they were subjected to these extreme interrogation techniques and denied access to counsel.
Most have been detained without being charged or brought to trial for years. The Bush administration proposed to try them before military tribunals, where they would be denied the rights enjoyed by others who have been accused but not convicted of crimes. Some of these people are and were American citizens, who have been convicted of nothing.
Some were released after several years’ confinement without ever being charged or tried, and without explanation.
This wholesale denial of rights was based on the Bush Administration’s assertions that the normal civil courts of the United States were incapable of convicting these people because of the rights afforded by our courts to persons who have been charged but convicted of nothing.
Nevertheless our civil courts have successfully tried and convicted several such defendants and virtually none of these people have been successfully prosecuted and convicted by the so-called Military Tribunals.
Some of these excesses continue under the Obama Administration, which was unable to persuade a congressional majority in a Democratically-controlled Congress to fund the closing of Gitmo.
People were afraid that some of these defendants could escape from maximum security prisons on American soil of the type that held the accused underground as portrayed in Grishom’s only nonfiction book, The Innocent Man.
That actual reasoning for the Bush Administrations handling of these Gitmo defendants has been expediency – that the denial of recognized rights is justified by the loss of security to the public in general if the accused were allowed the benefit of the exercise of these undeniably recognized and established civil rights. Benjamin Franklin, one of our founding fathers, had an answer for that logic roughly as follows:
“Those who would trade liberty for security will lose both and be worthy of neither.”