Friday, January 01, 2010

The Blackwater decision

As noted in yesterday's snapshot, Donald Ball, Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty, Nick Slatten and Paul Slough have no charges against them, Judge Ricardo Urbina tossed out all of the charges against the Blackwater mercenaries stemming from the September 16, 2007 Baghdad massacre. Judge Urbina found that the government (prosecution) was basing the case on statements the five mad to the US State Dept during the State Dept's investigation and after being told by the State Dept that their statements wouldn't be used against them.

Blackwater (Xe) has sent a statement to the public account. I'm not interested. It's not fact based and I'm not going to waste time deconstructing it.

This is not a good time for Blackwater, despite the claims of the statement.

That said, as noted yesterday, the judge's findings meant that the five should walk. The State Dept, in 2007, never should have made the offer they did. Having made the offer, it's too late to do a take-back. The Justice Dept should never have gone to court with a case they were basing on statements that the judge would obviously rule inadmissable.

If you're arrested, you're supposed to be informed of your rights. If you're not, your statements are not supposed to be allowed in court. Hearsay evidence is not supposed to be allowed either. The US court system is built upon a multitude of principles which, when they work, make it one of the finest legal systems in the world.

When they work? They worked on this case. They worked on this case because no one should be told their statements won't be used against them -- told by the government, no less -- and then face charges after they've spoken freely.

Sometimes the guilty walk. And that's not bad for the system. It can be bad for various individuals. It can be bad for justice, but it's not bad for the system. The system is built around the belief that it is better a few guilty slip through than innocents be convicted. That's why the US has a presumption of innocence until proven guilty -- that is not the case in all countries, not even the case in all 'developed' countries.

The five walking is great for the US system and although Iraq may or my not pursue their own charges (CNN's Jomana Karadsheh and Mohammed Tawfeeq report Iraq wants to charge the five), it would be better for Iraqi justice if they tried to learn a lesson here.

In Iraq, 'justice' is forced confessions, 'justice' is you're guilty or you wouldn't have been stopped in the first place. Iraq judicial system is a joke -- and it's a system that regularly sentences people to death. (The US also has the death penalty, of course.)

Forced confessions (or ones that the government says won't be held against you) do not belong in an open society.

Entrapment is also illegal.

Personally, I would have been happy seeing the five go to prison for life . . . until the issue of the evidence came up. Speaking just for me, they needed to walk. If the government -- with all its powers and its unlimited budgets -- can't make a solid case without using statements that were never supposed to be used in court, the government never should have brought the charges forward. I think the judge's decision was fair and valid. And that it demonstrates that (sometimes) the system works. I have no idea what other people in the US are saying or will say about it but I can't imagine that many on the left will be able to issue a rousing cry of "This is so wrong!" I especially don't expect to hear such a cry from those who are also defense attorneys.
If the prosecution breaks the rules, breaks the law, there shouldn't be a conviction.

That's really basic. The government should not be allowed to break the law while supposedly attempting to enforce it. BBC news includes that Wejdan Mikhail, Human Rights Minister in Iraq, is "astonished" and that she has declared, "There was so much work done to prosecute these people and to take this case into court and I don't understand why the judge took this decision." That the Human Rights Minister doesn't understand indicate Iraq's in ever more trouble than most realize. The judge made the decision because the government did not follow the rules. When the government does that, the case gets tossed out. That's how it works and that's how it's supposed to work. If that's difficult for Mikhail to grasp, maybe she shouldn't be the Human Rights Minister?

I'm sorry that at least 17 people are dead as a result of the massacre. I'd been even sorrier if Judge Urbina had decided that the rules don't matter or that, somehow, the US government can prosecute the law but doesn't have to follow the law itself.

Josh Gerstein (Politico -- text and audio) reports on Judge Urbina's decision (and Gerstein's link is to a PDF document, FYI):

"In their zeal to bring charges against the defendant[s] in this case, the prosecutors and investigators aggressively sought out statements the defendants had been compelled to make to government investigators in the immediate aftermath of the shooting and in the subsequent investigation," Urbina wrote in a 90-page opinion released Thursday afternoon.

"In so doing, the government's trial team repeatedly disregarded the warnings of experienced, senior prosecutors, assigned to the case specifically to advise the trial team on [such] issues, that this course of action threatened the viability of the prosecution. The government used the defendants' compelled statements to guide its charging decision, to formulate its theory of the case, to develop investigatory leaders and, ultimately, to obtain the indictment in this case," Urbina wrote.

If you're tired of all the 'safer' and 'wonderful' and 'looking up' Operation Happy Talk stories on Iraq today, you might want to check out Sam Dagher's New York Times blog post, "No Cheer for Iraqi Christians:"

QARAQOSH, Iraq -- It was another bad year for Iraq’s dwindling Christian minority.
Although they were granted more representation in Parliament under the new election law that was finally approved in early December, they continued to be besieged on many fronts, especially in northern Iraq. In December, churches were bombed twice in Mosul, and Christians were still singled out for killings or kidnappings. And as the year drew to a close, new threats loomed, paradoxically this time from another minority group.
The depth of the crisis facing Iraq's Christians -- and what little anyone, including the American military, can do -- was on display here on Christmas Eve.

Reuters notes a Baghdad roadside bombing left one police officer injured today and, last night, the US and Iraqi forces raided areas of Baghdad "in response to rocket attacks on the heavily fortified Green Zone and the U.S. military base next to Baghdad's airport".

Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "Brownie Approved" went up this morning and Kat's "Kat's Korner: The decade in music" and "2009 in books (Martha & Shirley)" went up Thursday, went up and "Reflecting on 2009 (Beth)" went up Sunday. Today you have Ruth offering a report, Kat looking at 2009 in music, Isaiah previewing the new year and also a year-in-review from me (if I ever get a second to write it). In addition, Ann's "2009 in DVDs" and Stan's "DVDs of 2009" (joint-post) looks at DVDs. Ann and Stan's post will be cross-posted here Saturday. Ruth wrote what I am sure was a wonderful report but, while doing her post at her site last night, decided to start all over this morning. Actually, she called and asked if it was okay to. Of course, it was, it's her piece. She's finishing writing it now. It will still need typing and links. Kat's trying to pull together her year-in-review of music and if she's still working on that when I finish this, I'll go ahead and start working on my year-in-review piece. Isaiah finished both of his comics last night. The second will be the last thing that goes up here today. (There will be no snapshot.) Mike plans to post today, FYI. Rebecca also plans to. Cedric and Wally plan to post tonight or tomorrow.

One more thing on the above. In her look back at the decade, Kat notes Carly Simon's The Bedroom Tapes and writes, "Some are going to argue with my terming The Bedroom Tapes 'a minor classic.' If you disagree, take comfort in the fact that C.I. thinks it's the finest album of Carly's career." An angry e-mail quotes that and denounces me for "telling Kat what to write." I did no such thing. I didn't discuss it with her and what she's referring to is my selection of The Bedroom Tapes as Carly's best album for "The Carly Roundtable" at Third back in October. Kat writes what she wants and it's her space. I didn't even help with an edit on her decade piece but she is asking for feedback on her 2009 piece (largely: "Can you follow this? Is it clear?").

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