Monday, April 9, 2012

Welcome to the wild west

Welcome to the wild, wild West. This week the U.S. government offered a $10 million bounty for Hafiz Saeed, the founder of a Pakistani militant group who is believed to be responsible for the 2008 massacre in Mumbai, India that left 166 people, including six Americans, dead.

Keep in mind that Mr. Saeed has not been found guilty of being the man behind the massacre. There may very well be compelling evidence that he, or his organization, carried out the killing spree. But, as any of us who have worked in the courtroom know, just because the prosecution has evidence doesn't mean they can prove anything.

We are supposed to be a nation of laws. And those laws protect the people against the over-reaching arm of the state. The same laws that protect you and I from the oppressive power of the state, also protect those whom might not be so popular. Just as you and I are free (supposedly) from unreasonable search and seizure, so is the person accused of burglary, drug possession or driving while intoxicated.

We all have the right to due process. We have the right to have our cases heard before a jury of our peers - and those rights apply whether you are a citizen or not. If you are brought before the bench in a criminal courtroom in America, the Bill of Rights protects you whether you were born here or not.

What has the American government so worked up is the fact that while the crime occurred in India, the alleged mastermind is in Pakistan - outside the jurisdiction of either the Indian or American authorities. And if Pakistan won't pick Mr. Saeed up on an Indian warrant, well, there's just so much you can do.

By placing a bounty on Mr. Saeed's head, the American government is just asking for someone to put a bullet in Mr. Saeed. And doing that would deprive Mr. Saeed of his right to due process. For you see, if our government is posting the bounty that means our government wants him. And, if our government wants Mr. Saeed, then our government must afford him the same right to due process that we all have.

I'm no expert on Indian law. I have no idea what guarantees the accused has under their laws. If India wanted to post a bounty on Mr. Saeed, they could have done so and I don't know whether I'd have much to say about the matter.

But we're the ones who set up the new lottery in Pakistan. I can see the marketing line now - "What would you do with $10 million?" How many people will put themselves in harm's way for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?

If the U.S. really wants Mr. Saeed brought to trial to answer for his alleged misdeeds, just put pressure on the Pakistani government. The U.S. pumps millions of dollars into Pakistani coffers every year. But that won't happen. That would require a backbone. That would require someone to put the choice before the Pakistani government in stark terms.

Nope. It's much easier to put up a "Wanted: Dead or Alive" poster and forget about all that rule of law stuff.

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