Monday, May 9, 2011

It's all relative

It's the middle of the night. Police surround a house. At the designated signal the front door is kicked in and officers storm the dwelling. The people inside the house see nothing but high powered flashlights and guns. They hear strangers shouting and threatening to shoot.

The officers continue through the house until they find the object of their raid. The man is unarmed. Instead of taking the man named in the warrant into custody they take him into another room and shoot him once in the chest and once in the head.

Maybe the evidence was overwhelming that the suspect was guilty as charged. We'll never know for certain because the police played the role of judge, jury and executioner. The dead man was, by law, presumed innocent. He was entitled to due process of law. He was entitled to a trial before a jury. He was entitled to consult with an attorney before making any statements once taken into custody. He was entitled to confront the witnesses against him and to put on evidence in his behalf.

Those rights were snuffed out in the blink of an eye.

What would your reaction be? What if he were charged with armed robbery? Aggravated assault? Murder? At what point is it acceptable to deprive the accused of his rights under the law? What if wasn't a citizen of the United States? What if the police officers were serving a warrant from another country?

The Constitution makes no distinction between the rights afforded to citizens and noncitizens. The Constitution makes no distinction between the rights afforded to a man accused of murder and a man accused of DWI.

Osama Bin Laden was accused of masterminding a criminal act of horrific magnitude in the United States. Mr. Bin Laden was unarmed at the time he was killed. No matter how heinous the crime of which he was accused, Mr. Bin Laden was entitled to his due process rights.

But the Navy decided to take justice into its own hands. The deprivation of rights is never anything to be cheered. Particularly by men and women who swore to defend the Constitution. If Bin Laden is not entitled to the protections afforded by the Constitution, who's next in line to lose their protection?

Up in arms about an illegal search? How about a Miranda violation? Didn't get your Brady material? Did you cheer the news of a killing in Pakistan? A killing that violated a man's rights?

We don't defend an individual as much as we defend the Bill of Rights. We don't defend what a person may or may not have done so much as we defend his rights under the Constitution. Sometimes it can be distasteful, but even the worst among us deserves his rights. That's what we do.

This is supposed to a nation of laws; but I suppose that's all relative.

1 comment:

Anthony Cerminaro said...

Attorney General Eric Holder asserted that the killing of bin Laden was legally justified, and would have been even if the Al Qaeda leader had made some sign that he wished to surrender.

‘The operation in which Osama bin Laden was killed was lawful,’ he said. ‘He was the head of Al Qaeda, an organization that had conducted the attacks of Sep 11. He admitted his involvement and he indicated that he would not be taken alive.’

‘The operation against bin Laden was justified as an act of national self defense,’ he said.

Holder said bin Laden was a legitimate military target and he had made no attempt to surrender to the US forces that stormed his fortified compound.

It was lawful to target an enemy commander in the field and the mission was conducted in the way that was consistent with US laws and values, Holder testified, adding that it was a ‘kill or capture mission.’

‘If he had attempted to surrender, I think we should obviously have accepted that, but there was no indication that he wanted to do that. And therefore his killing was appropriate,’ Holder said.