The Truth Will Set You Free

Last night, the talking head on the local channel told us that Michael Richards – famous for his role as Kramer on Seinfeld – had used “racially offensive language” during a stand up act. I guess the languagewas just too offensive for my delicate ears, because they did not tell me what it was, nor show me the video of the scene, instead expecting me to blindly trust the judgment of the all wise news people that the language was actually offensive. Hah.

Thankfully I was able to use the tubes of the internets to find the video and decide for myself. Yep, it’s offensive. Here it is, make up your own mind.  I will warn you, though, not to watch it if you either have sensitive ears or ever want to watch Seinfeld again.

And while we’re on the subject of offensive television, is anyone else as disappointed as I am that Fox cancelled O.J.’s tell-all-in-the-subjunctive-tense interview and book? Everyone knows he did it, and had this not been cancelled, we’d finally know how. And I bet it would have given the families a chance to sue him again. Surely there would be some tort applicable to the interview/book; outrage, invasion of privacy, something. And after what happened in the criminal trial, any civil court would bend over backwards to make it happen. Oh well, now we’ll never know.

We do know that Brandon Mitchell intentionally murdered three people at the Airport Inn in B’ham last Thanksgiving. A jury convicted him last Friday, so we can rest assured he’s guilty. What we don’t know is whether Alabama will get to kill him for the crime. The same jury that convicted him – a pronouncement no prosecutor would EVER second guess – also recommeded life without parole as punishment – a judgment you better believe the prosecution will second guess. In Alabama, the elected judge, not the independent jury, gets to make the final decision about death. The B’ham news offers sage advice:

Alabama is one of only a handful of states that allow judges to disregard a jury’s advice when it comes to death sentences. It’s a particularly troubling aspect of our state’s approach to capital punishment, especially considering that our judges are elected and under pressure to appear tough on crime.

Perhaps for that reason, the power is almost always used to impose death when a jury recommends life, even though judges are able to spare defendants against a jury’s wishes, too. About 20 percent of Alabama’s Death Row is made up of people a jury didn’t believe should be executed.

That’s a travesty.

The Airport Inn murders were awful, no doubt about that. Three people who were loved immensely were shot to death. They include Kim Olney, who was working at the hotel; John Aylesworth, a Texas trucker who had just checked out; and Dorothy Smith, who was about to check in. Their families testified Friday about their grief.

But jurors also heard about Mitchell’s sad upbringing: taken into state custody as a baby, tossed to and fro as he grew up, tied to chairs and beaten by relatives.

Prosecutors argued that was beside the point.

“He chose death for those people,” prosecutor Danny Carr told the jury. “And now he wants you to do something he did not do – show mercy. Throw your sympathy away.”

For whatever reason, the jurors showed mercy. These are jurors who heard all the evidence in the case, who had to support the death penalty to get assigned to a capital case, who made the tough unanimous call to convict Mitchell for the crime. Yet they believed, by a 10-2 margin, that death was not a fitting punishment for Mitchell.

[Judge Bill] Cole should let their decision stand.

We can punish Brandon Mitchell because we know Brandon Mitchell committed a crime. He had a lawyer, he knew the charges, he was able to contest the charges, and a neutral decision maker evaluated the evidence. Plenty of others wish they were that fortunate. The Tuscaloosa News editorializes today:

Known as “The Great Writ” and Latin for “you [should] have the body,” habeas corpus requires the government to show proof why it should be allowed to incarcerate people.

Article 1 of the Constitution makes it clear that arbitrary detention is beyond the pale in a just society under all but the most extreme circumstances: “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.”

It is a right that is also a cornerstone of international law, which not only governs the way we treat people we capture overseas, but guarantees rights to Americans who may be jailed in other lands.

But under the Military Commission Act, passed by a congress composed of rubber stamp Republicans and cowed Democrats, habeas corpus would not exist in the United States for those deemed enemy combatants by the President and perhaps some of his legal underlings.

Under the law, people could be arbitrarily defined as a “terrorist,” arrested and locked up with no chance to be confronted with the evidence against them or to defend themselves. In fact, that is already going on at places like Guantanamo Bay, where of the hundreds of prisoners detained there since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America precisely 10 have been formally charged.

But the winds of change that blew so strongly on Nov. 7 may also swirl through the new Congress when it convenes in January. . . .

Last week Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd introduced legislation that would amend the military commission act to provide mechanisms for those arrested by the government to seek legal redress.

“I take a backseat to no one when it comes to protecting this country from terrorists,” Dodd said in introducing his legislation. “But there is a right way to do this and a wrong way to do this.

“It’s clear the people who perpetrated these horrendous crimes against our country and our people have no moral compass and deserve to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” he added. “But in taking away their legal rights, the rights first codified in our country’s Constitution, we’re taking away our own moral compass, as well.”

There is, of course, no chance Dodd’s bill will be passed in the 109th Congress. But we have great hopes for his success, and other successes on a wide range of civil liberty issues, in the 110th that convenes in January.

NPR obtained tapes of the portions of the military tribunals on GTMO. Here’s what one of the imminent threats to our freedom has to say:

Hadj Boudella, one of the other detainees, tells the military panel at his tribunal that this is the first time he’s heard some of the accusations against him.

“I’ve been here for three years, and these accusations were just told to me,” Boudella says. “Nobody or any interrogator ever mentioned any of these accusations you are talking to me about now.”

What’s striking is that, despite not knowing fully why they’re being held, enduring open-ended detentions and sometimes harsh interrogations, the detainees on these audio tapes express faith that truth will prevail. Boudella tells the panel that his lawyers — at the Boston firm Wilmerhale — sent him a letter telling him not to participate in the tribunal for fear of incriminating himself.

“I want to show you that I am really innocent, and I want you to see I can defend myself,” Boudella says on the recording. “If you’re innocent, no matter how people try to cover your innocence, it will come out.”

Amen. Here’s hoping congress will now have the guts to let the truth be our leader in the fight against terrorists.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Birmingham Crime, Capital Punishment, Corrupt Politicians, Goobers, Not Alabama, Trials, War on terror

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