Friday, November 20, 2009

Pro and Con: Justice at Ground Zero. Yes or No?


A battlefield in the courtroom.

By Eugene Robinson

Critics of Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to bring the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks and four other accused terrorists to New York for trial can't seriously believe the city will have trouble handling the expected "trial of the century" hoopla. The critics can't really think a judge is going to give Khalid Sheik Mohammed an open microphone to spew his jihadist views, or fear that a jury -- sitting just blocks from Ground Zero -- will look for reasons to let an accused mass murderer off on some technicality.

In the enemy's version of history, the West -- meaning the United States, Israel, Britain and what used to be called Christendom -- has a long history of exploiting the Muslim world. We occupy Muslim lands to steal their resources. We install corrupt lackeys as their rulers. For all our high and mighty talk about fairness and justice, we reserve these luxuries for ourselves. In this warped worldview, we deserve any atrocities that jihadist "warriors" might commit against us.

Protesting that all this is absurd and obscene does not make it go away. And our troops' military success actually helps to further the jihadist narrative about a "crusade" against Islam.

It's ironic that many of the officials and commentators who are so upset about the decision to give KSM a civilian trial were also quick to call the Fort Hood killings an act of terrorism. If the suspect, Maj. Nidal Hasan, is indeed a terrorist -- and not just a deranged man who snapped -- then his awful rampage helps demonstrate my point. Hasan reportedly considered the U.S. military deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan a war against Islam, at one point arguing that Muslim soldiers should be excused from combat as conscientious objectors. In other words, he apparently bought at least part of the jihadist line. If killing a terrorist in Kandahar creates one in Killeen, we'll never make progress.

In this context, putting KSM and the others on trial in a civilian proceeding on U.S. soil is not just a duty but also an opportunity. It's a way to show that we do not have one system of justice for ourselves and another for Muslims, that we give defendants their day in court, that we insist they be vigorously defended by competent counsel -- that we really do practice what we preach.

Even if a military tribunal would be just as fair -- and a military court might be even more offended than a civilian one by the fact that KSM was subjected to waterboarding -- a trial by men and women in uniform would be seen as an extension of the "war on Islam."

Holder's choice is not without risk. The biggest question I have is whether an impartial jury could be impaneled in New York. And while I believe the chance of an acquittal is incredibly remote, if it happened, KSM would be kept in indefinite detention anyway -- a nightmare scenario.

But there's one more huge benefit to a civilian trial: It would show the preachers of hatred and their followers that we're not afraid of them or their poisonous ideas. It would show that they haven't changed us or our ideals -- and that they never will.

I say bring it on.



Travesty in New York

By Charles Krauthammer

For late-19th-century anarchists, terrorism was the "propaganda of the deed." And the most successful propaganda-by-deed in history was 9/11 -- not just the most destructive, but the most spectacular and telegenic.

And now its self-proclaimed architect, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, has been given by the Obama administration a civilian trial in New York. Just as the memory fades, 9/11 has been granted a second life -- and KSM, a second act: "9/11, The Director's Cut," narration by KSM.

September 11, 2001 had to speak for itself. A decade later, the deed will be given voice. KSM has gratuitously been presented with the greatest propaganda platform imaginable -- a civilian trial in the media capital of the world -- from which to proclaim the glory of jihad and the criminality of infidel America.

So why is Attorney General Eric Holder doing this? Ostensibly, to demonstrate to the world the superiority of our system, where the rule of law and the fair trial reign.

Really? What happens if KSM (and his co-defendants) "do not get convicted," asked Senate Judiciary Committee member Herb Kohl. "Failure is not an option," replied Holder. Not an option? Doesn't the presumption of innocence, er, presume that prosecutorial failure -- acquittal, hung jury -- is an option? By undermining that presumption, Holder is undermining the fairness of the trial, the demonstration of which is the alleged rationale for putting on this show in the first place.

Moreover, everyone knows that whatever the outcome of the trial, KSM will never walk free. He will spend the rest of his natural life in U.S. custody. Which makes the proceedings a farcical show trial from the very beginning.

Apart from the fact that any such trial will be a security nightmare and a terror threat to New York -- what better propaganda-by-deed than blowing up the courtroom, making KSM a martyr and turning the judge, jury and spectators into fresh victims? -- it will endanger U.S. security. Civilian courts with broad rights of cross-examination and discovery give terrorists access to crucial information about intelligence sources and methods.

That's precisely what happened during the civilian New York trial of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers. The prosecution was forced to turn over to the defense a list of 200 unindicted co-conspirators, including the name Osama bin Laden. "Within 10 days, a copy of that list reached bin Laden in Khartoum," wrote former attorney general Michael Mukasey, the presiding judge at that trial, "letting him know that his connection to that case had been discovered."

Finally, there's the moral logic. It's not as if Holder opposes military commissions on principle. On the same day he sent KSM to a civilian trial in New York, Holder announced he was sending Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, (accused) mastermind of the attack on the USS Cole, to a military tribunal.

By what logic? In his congressional testimony Wednesday, Holder was utterly incoherent in trying to explain. In his Nov. 13 news conference, he seemed to be saying that if you attack a civilian target, as in 9/11, you get a civilian trial; a military target like the Cole, and you get a military tribunal.

What a perverse moral calculus. Which is the war crime -- an attack on defenseless civilians or an attack on a military target such as a warship, an accepted act of war that the United States itself has engaged in countless times?

By what possible moral reasoning, then, does KSM, who perpetrates the obvious and egregious war crime, receive the special protections and constitutional niceties of a civilian courtroom, while he who attacked a warship is relegated to a military tribunal?

Moreover, the incentive offered any jihadist is as irresistible as it is perverse: Kill as many civilians as possible on American soil and Holder will give you Miranda rights, a lawyer, a propaganda platform -- everything but your own blog.

Alternatively, Holder tried to make the case that he chose a civilian New York trial as a more likely venue for securing a conviction. An absurdity: By the time Barack Obama came to office, KSM was ready to go before a military commission, plead guilty and be executed. It's Obama who blocked a process that would have yielded the swiftest and most certain justice.

Indeed, the perfect justice. Whenever a jihadist volunteers for martyrdom, we should grant his wish. Instead, this one, the most murderous and unrepentant of all, gets to dance and declaim at the scene of his crime.

Holder himself told The Post that the coming New York trial will be "the trial of the century." The last such was the trial of O.J. Simpson.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Day Of Judgement for Webster Smith.

Those who were not present on Tuesday, November 10, 2009 at the

United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (USCAAF)

450 E Street, Northwest

Washington, D.C. 20442-0001

for the oral arguments in the case of United States v. Webster M. Smith, Case No. 08-0719/CG, missed a real burn-burner.

The judges of the USCAAF are civilian judges and sit as a single panel on all cases. Typically, all five judges participate in each case. The judges came out firing questions fast and furious to the two Appellate Attorneys. The first one up was Counsel for Webster Smith: Ronald C. Machen, Esquire. He was prepared and completely unflappable. He responded to every question put to him. When he was interrupted in mid sentence, he did not forge on and try to finish his thought; he immediately responded to the Judge's question. He gave reasoned responsive answers to every question. Some judges fired hard ball questions, and one judge even offer up a soft-ball question which was answered in the same serious manner.

Then came Counsel for U S Coast Guard: LT Emily P. Reuter, USCG. She had a cold or was recovering from the Swine Flu and began by pleading for leniency because of her weakened voice. It was downhill from there for her. She did not appear to give responsive answers to most of the questions put to her. She may have not even clearly understood some of the question before she attempted to respond to them. Frequently she appeared to retreat to her notes or her brief and read the holdings from cases that she had cited in her brief. Perhaps this was her first time arguing before the court or maybe this was a case that no one else wanted to argue, but there surely was not her finest hour.

This was an appeal from a General Court-Martial (GCM) conviction for going from place of duty, attempting to disobey an order, sodomy, extortion, and indecent assault. The ISSUE on Appeal was whether the military judge at the court-martial at the Coast Guard Academy violated Webster Smith’s constitutional right to confront his accusers by limiting his cross-examination of Shelley Roddenbush [SR], the government’s only witness, on three of the five charges.

Counsel for each side was allowed 20 minutes to present oral argument in the case.

The judges of the USCAAF are Judge Andrew S. Effron is the Chief Judge. The other four judges are Judge James E. Baker, Judge Charles E. “Chip” Erdmann, Judge Scott W. Stucky, and Judge Margaret A. Ryan, the most recent appointee.

The first issue that they tackled was the jurisdictional issue. The Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals had denied a request for reconsideration on 14 May 2008. It was not clear whether this was in the Appellate Record. There was a question of how many days had elapsed from the notification of the denial to Webster Smith's attorney and the date that Attorney Machen filed his appeal to the USCAAF. The Coast Guard had sent the Notice of Denial via DHL, a German company, rather than simply using the U. S. Mail as required by the Rules of Court. Apparently there are two time periods that may be relevant under Article 67(B) of the USCAAF's Rules. One is a 61 day rule and the other is a 95 day rule.

They kept coming back to this jurisdictional issue again and again. I do not think they hammered it out definitively during the hearing. Webster Smith's attorney said that it is not in the Record that he was notified on 14 May. LT Emily P. Reuter for the USCG said that it was in the Record. I am sure the USCAAF judges will settled the issue before they issue a decision.

This is troubling because I would hate for the judges to dodge the ISSUE on Appeal because of a technicality like jurisdiction. I could hear a couple of the judges contemplating doing just that. The tone and the tenor of the questions leads me to just that conclusion. It would be a shame after all this time and effort to be cheated out of a hard and definitive decision on the ultimate ISSUE.

That being said, it is my reasoned opinion that the judges of the USCAAF are poised to reverse the conviction of Webster Smith. I feel there is better than a 60-40% chance that they will reverse the conviction by a majority vote. Also, there is a 51-49% chance of a unanimous decision.

I think Judge Ryan is a swing vote. She gave Attorney Machen the hardest time. If at all possible she might do like Judge Lane I. McClelland of the Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals and uphold the status quo. However, I do not think she would go out on a limb and write a dissenting opinion. If the other four judges split 2-2, I think she might side with the judges who determine that a reversal is warranted because the Trial Judge abused his discretion and committed reversible error.

Judge Baker appears most eager to reverse this conviction because Webster Smith was denied his right to a fair trial. He sees this as a fair trial issue. He believes that the trial court members had a right to know what the secret was that SR wanted Webster Smith to keep, that it was of a sexual nature, that she had recently lied about it being nonconsensual when it was really consensual oral sex with an enlisted man in Norfolf, Virginia. Also, SR wanted Webster Smith to go out and lie for her so badly that she was willing to pay him with sexual favors.

Judge Baker feels this was crucial evidence that the members were entitled to know. The exact nature of the secret was crucial to Webster Smith's defense. The Trial Judge relied upon Rule 412 of the Military Rules of Evidence and allowed into evidence only the fact that Webster Smith was privy to a secret that SR wanted him to keep; and that secret concerned something that could ruin her cadet and officer career in the Coast Guard.

Even though Judge Baker is a civilian, he might have served in the military. He pointed out that there are lots of secrets that can harm one's career. It could be a secret concerning having failed a physical training exercise; or, it could be a secret involving a wardrobe or a uniform violation. The members had no way of knowing the precise nature of the secret since the trial judge protected SR from more rigorous cross-examination. They did not know that when SR was faced with rumors she lied to limit her own culpability. Giving a limiting instruction to the members was not sufficient to cure the error. It was more than harmless error. It was big, earth shaking, reversible error. It violated the Sixth Amendment of the U. S. Constitution.

As Attorney Machen so eloquently stated, SR had used the secret as a sword and a shield. It shielded her from testifying at the Article 32 investigation, and it was the sword that she used at trial to stab Webster Smith through the heart. It killed him and his career in the Coast Guard. It is what the judges referred to as the Theory of Innoculation. The secret had innoculated SR from two investigations. It saved her from testifying at the Article 32 Investigation.

LT Emily P. Reuter wanted to argue that this was not a Fair Trial issue, but it was a pattern or practice issue. As such the Trial Judge was correct to limit cross-examination of SR to stop any evidence from coming in concerning her prior sexual history or her propensity to tell lies. She argued that the Defense's Theory of the case at trial was wrong for the evidence that they were trying to elicit, and that the Trial Judge correctly used Rule 412. If he erred, it was no more than harmless error. It was not Reversible Error. She was not persuasive.

Truth crushed to earth shall rise again. The essence of truth in this case is finally coming to the surface. From where I sit, the USCAAF stands ready to right a gigantic wrong. It wants to reconsecrate the Temple of Justice in the Coast Guard. It wants to heal the wound that was inflicted on the Sixth Amendment by the trial court and the Coast Guard Court of Criminal Appeals.