Saturday, December 20, 2008

NYT pushes war crime investigation — are civil suits an alternative

Unfortunately, I doubt even The Gray Lady will be able to convince Just.Another.Politician.™ and Passive Pelosi™ of this need. And, the Times agrees, saying not just political reality but the unmasking of Barack Obama's true colors (they don't call it that, and people like me saw through the mask from the start) are why we won't get what we need:

Given his other problems — and how far he has moved from the powerful stands he took on these issues early in the campaign — we do not hold out real hope that Barack Obama, as president, will take such a politically fraught step.

The Times goes on to describe what it considers minimally acceptable actions in this area from The One; they're minimal indeed, but not bad for where the MSM has been on this issue in the past.

An alternative —
Of course, as Newsweek reports, the ball may be starting to roll without any say-so from Obama or Pelosi. The recent Senate Armed Services Committee report may give a new legal boost to Maher Arar’s suit against John Ashcroft. And, SCOTUS has revived a lawsuit against Rumsfield by four Guantanamo detainees.

There are two sides to this.

One is that civil suits don’t bring prison time.

The biggest downside of civil suits against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, former Attorney General John Ashcroft, or even soon-to-be former President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney is that you and I never get to see heinous offenders against international law, international law that is by treaty and the provisions of the U.S. Constitution, the law of the land — do the actual criminal time in prison they have earned.

The flip side, though, is that Bush (or Obama, in the name of “national unity”) can’t pardon anybody, today or looking ahead to the future, from the verdict and punishments of any civil suit.


Also, in a criminal case, given “War on Terror” hysteria, getting a conviction by unanimous jury vote would be mighty hard.

You don’t need a unanimous vote in civil cases at the state level; I think the same is true at federal level, but I’m not sure. (In any case, only a small fraction of the small fraction of federal civil cases that go to trial are pled before a jury.)

So, if Maher Arar has a better shot of suing Rumsfeld, bolstered by the recent Senate Armed Services Commission report on the architects of torture, as Newsweek reports, fire away!

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