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Monday, August 28, 2006

Innocent Until Proven Guilty

Citizens of the United States are quick to point out how their judicial system considers a suspect innocent until proven guilty. Nevertheless, Americans often act no different than a military dictator when they nab a suspect. The recent arrest of a suspect in the JonBenet Ramsey Case is just one example. Most major news outlets and many Americans seemed to race to the conclusion that Mr. Karr was guilty of murder, before even a preliminary hearing was held. Now all charges have been dropped. ABC's Peter Gibson and NBC's Brian Williams acted almost guilty of a crime themselves as they sheepishly admitted they were wrong on recent broadcasts.

George Bush and Dick Cheney raced to judgment after they rushed British authorities toward the arrest of those suspected of plotting to bomb U.S. airlines. MSNBC story British authorities were quick to fan the flames of the fire the White House appeared to start for purely political purposes. "Mass murder on an unimaginable scale" and "attacks were highly likely" were the phrases used. British authorities now admit that the attacks were not imminent. The whole costly security crack-down was simply a case of the Home Office crying "wolf."

The suspects now in custody had not applied for U.S. visas, held no plane tickets, and appear to be technically incapable of assembling and detonating such liquid explosives.

In the biggest case of conviction without a trial, U.S. conservatives are bound and determined to start bombing thousands of sites in Iran, without hard evidence. The U.S. Intelligence community and the U.S. Congress openly admit they have little information about Iran's nuclear program. That is not stopping the White House from threatening to circumvent the United Nations to take immediate action against Iran. Maybe it is the heavy hand of the Israeli government's AIPAC lobby pushing the White House or maybe it is oil lobby seeking free access to Iran's crude oil. Obviously, something other than hard evidence and trial by jury is driving those who swore to uphold the U.S. Constitution. The Sixth Amendment to that Constitution guarantees a defendant the right to a trial by jury. The Eighth Amendment prohibits "cruel and unusual punishment."

Perhaps it was a natural progression from the CIA's kidnapping and secretly torturing suspects all over the world, to Guantanamo detentions without trial, and telephone wiretaps without even an easily obtained court order that emboldened the Executive Branch of the U.S. government. Then again, maybe it was just that same old rush to judgment that led to thousands of black men being lynched in the South not that many years ago.

Stoking the flames of fear in our citizens is a dangerous way to rally people to a cause or garner more votes in an upcoming election. Elected leaders need to stop bashing the courts or judges and instead deliver solid cases based on hard evidence. Real justice takes long hours of investigation, real evidence, careful preparation of cases, and a suspect's day in court. If we insist on skipping this process we cannot call ourselves a civilization at all but simply an angry mob bent on revenge at any cost.

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