Tuesday, March 09, 2010

A Brief Comment Concerning Republican Talking Points on Rhetoric

Some Republicans, most notably those who are associated with former Vice President Richard Cheney and his daughter Elizabeth Cheney, claim that our president is inviting further terrorism by trying the 9-11 conspirators before a criminal court, offering them lawyers, and hiring lawyers who once defended terrorist suspects to work in the Justice Department.

These accusations have apparently worked insofar as they have brought the president's poll numbers down on national security. Demagoguery has its assets, particularly when the public has every desire to believe that a G.I. Joe "kill the bad guys" policy will solve every complex problem we face around the world. Our president, apparently, will undercut his Attorney General and move some of these terrorists, who originally were going to be tried in Manhattan before a civil court, to the military commissions, where the process favors the prosecutors. Like the Democrats who caved moments after the president signed an executive order designed to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, the president will not fight for or make the case for the Democratic Party's values, even when they are more closely aligned with what is authorized in the Constitution.

I will not comment at length on Lynn Cheney's "jihad 7" lawyer ad (this concerns lawyers who represented Al Qaeda) since conservative and liberal commentators alike have debunked the guilt-by-association claim on the talk shows that have given it prime coverage. In our adversarial system of justice, someone has to represent the suspect and someone has to represent the government. Both make their case for why the suspect should be convicted or acquitted of the crime in question and then a jury (or judge if a jury trial is waived) decides if the suspect should go free or not.

One of perhaps the more galling "critiques" (at least for someone who has some rudimentary understanding and appreciation for our legal process) is the claim that the Obama administration is "treating the terrorists like any common criminal." Republicans have used this talking point on all of the major political talk shows.

Insofar as they are providing incomplete information, these Republicans are misleading the average viewer who watches these programs. The process by which we determine if a suspect is guilty or not guilty of committing the crimes he or she is accused of would be the same, as it should be, if he or she is tried in civil court. There can only be one standard, after all, for determining whether an individual who is on trial is guilty or innocent of the charges he or she is accused of. Either the individual in question is guilty or not and there is either enough evidence to convict the individual in question or there isn't.

The person who is convicted of committing an act of terrorism, however, would not be treated like a common criminal. In all likelihood, he or she will receiver a harsher penalty than the person who robs a jewelry store or the person who sells some marijuana to a group of high school or college students. Murderers (or would-be murderers) could get the death penalty if they are tried by a jurisdiction that would allow for it. Your run-in-the-mill thief would not.

So, in summary, the process by which people who are accused of committing crimes are proven guilty or not guilty is the same but treatment exacted on convicted criminals would differ at it should when the gravity of the crime differs substantially. The political slogan the Republicans are using may sound more catchy and it may scare and/or infuriate voters who rightly think terrorists shouldn't be treated like common criminals, but it is grossly irresponsible to use it since they are undermining the president's credibility with a lie.

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