Thursday, February 28, 2008

If This Doesn't Scare You...

Imagine a scenario for a moment if you will. You are asleep in bed one evening when the front door is crushed in a dozen government agents bristling with flashlights and guns bursts into your home and take you into custody. You are whisked out of the country in the dead of night and languish in an unidentified prison for five years. This country doesn't have habeas corpus so the use of coercive interrogation procedures, perhaps even water boarding are used against you to get you to talk. Finally you are charged for conspiracy to commit murder, lots of them, but have to stand trial with five other people. You are being tried as a group and you all receive the same sentence as the next man though you have never worked or seen any other of the five until your first day of court. You obtain you lawyer but you are denied access to evidence that the prosecution used to bring about the charge. Even your lawyer can't see the evidence so in sense you are defending yourself blindly with no idea what the prosecution is saying against you. But you do know that the prosecution can legally use hearsay and statements obtained through coercion against you.

The verdict when it comes doesn't have to be unanimous. A two-thirds majority vote by the jury is enough but the jury is comprised of soldiers who are fighting in a country that if fighting back and killing some of them. Even though you are Canadian and not from that country, your skin color and name are similar to citizens from there. You are not sure if you will even get a fair trial because your lawyer has no say in the jury members. Doesn't sound fair. In fact, if I were from another country reading this in the paper, I would think this government is ruled by a brutal tyrant and probably that of some third world country. But I would be wrong.

The scenario is real and is happening as I write this. The United States under the U.S. Military Commissions Act of 2006 was given permission to try people in front of a military court who have been held without charge for the previous five years. Over a year later after the law was passed by Congress, the trials are just beginning. Each defendant has been charged with conspiracy to commit multiple murders and have been denied, along with their lawyers, access to evidence being used to convict them. That evidence was submitted secretly to a judge behind closed doors and without a lawyer, even your lawyer present. Basically you will be allowed to provide your defense without knowing what evidence against you has been gathered. They are being tried as a group and only a two-thirds majority vote is needed to convict them by a jury that is most definitely not of their peers.

Very scary stuff if you ask me.

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