Today I get an email bringing my attention to a recent NYT article on some shady business going on with the military tribunals being held for suspected terrorists. Okay, we’ve all heard this story before: detainees are being tortured, and military tribunals don’t give a fair trial, right? I’ve never been one to give much gravity to these allegations because of the propensity of actual terrorists to cry “torture!” whenever they are caught by infidels. However, this particular case, highlighted by NYT and first reported by the WSJ is of particular interest to me.
The Times recently reported,
WASHINGTON, July 31 - As the Pentagon was making its final preparations to begin war crimes trials against four detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, two senior prosecutors complained in confidential messages last year that the trial system had been secretly arranged to improve the chance of conviction and to deprive defendants of material that could prove their innocence.
Among the striking statements in the prosecutors’ messages was an assertion by one that the chief prosecutor had told his subordinates that the members of the military commission that would try the first four defendants would be “handpicked” to ensure that all would be convicted.
The same officer, Capt. John Carr of the Air Force, also said in his message that he had been told that any exculpatory evidence - information that could help the detainees mount a defense in their cases - would probably exist only in the 10 percent of documents being withheld by the Central Intelligence Agency for security reasons.
Okay, like I said, we’ve been here before. But in this case, I actually believe the allegations. Why, you say? Because I’ve met, talked to, and spent a week with (now) Major John Carr and I believe that he is a man of utmost integrity and honesty.
A month or two back I spent a week in Liberty, Missouri with 74 of the brightest young people I’ve ever met. We were all there for the 2005 Truman Scholars Leadership Week. This week is held every year for the year’s 75 recipients of the nationally-prestigious Harry S. Truman Scholarship (yes, I got lucky). Annually at TSLW there is a cohort of “senior scholars.” These admirable scholars are Truman Scholars from previous years who have come to share their wisdom and experience with the new scholars, helping us all find our ways to public service.
One of this year’s senior scholars was Major John Carr.
I had an opportunity to sit down and speak with him about his job, his education, his politics, and his passion and commitment to justice. A graduate of both the Harvard Law School and the Kennedy School of Government, Major Carr has been with the Air Force JAG Corps for a while now, working on sensitive issues such as terrorism and national security in the Office of Military Commissions.
My impressions from sitting down and talking to him — the guy is a very humble, brilliant, and passionate defender of justice and other American ideals, and if he says that something is awry, then I believe him.
As an American — even more to the point — as a New Yorker who looked out of the window of the fourth floor of my high school on September 11, 2001 and saw the Twin Towers (where my father had worked for years) in flames, part of me wants to say, “Whatever. If they don’t get a fair trial, tough beans. The 3,000+ Americans killed that day had no trials.”
But then there is the aspiring lawyer in me and the conscientious American in me that is forced to note that if these allegations are true, then we are a long way from where we need to be as a beacon of all those virtues that make us different from the ignorantly primal Islamofascists who would kill us all. Certainly justice trumps random retribution. We should not allow our anger, zeal, or even hatred (yes, I hate terrorist murderers with all my being) to blind us to who we are.
This isn’t a Republican or Democrat thing; this goes beyond politics. IT’S ABOUT DOING THE RIGHT THING. One of the greatest — if not the greatest — conservative minds America ever produced was that of the second President of the United States of America, John Adams. John Adams was a man of principle, as all conservatives should be. He, at times, is my model of a man.
Here is a story to remind us all that the best way to defeat terrorists is to maintain a truly American America:
John Adams, in his old age, called his defense of British soldiers in 1770 “one of the most gallant, generous, manly, and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country.” That’s quite a statement, coming as it does from perhaps the most underappreciated great man in American history.
The day after British soldiers mortally wounded five Americans on a cobbled square in Boston, thirty-four-year-old Adams was visted in his office near the stairs of the Town Office by a Boston merchant , James Forest. “With tears streaming from his eyes” (according to the recollection of Adams), Forest asked Adams to defend the soldiers and their captain, Thomas Preston. Adams understood that taking the case would not only subject him to criticism, but might jeopardize his legal practice or even risk the safety of himself and his family. But Adams believed deeply that every person deserved a defense, and he took on the case without hesitation. For his efforts, he would receive the modest sum of eighteen guineas.
The Preston case came to trial in the Queen Street courthouse in October. Adams, and his young assistant, Josiah Quincy, defended Preston against a prosecution team comprised of Josiah’s brother Samuel and Robert Paine. Adams succeeded in casting grave doubt as to whether Preston ever gave orders to shoot, and the Boston jury acquitted the captain.
More detailed records exist for the Soldiers’ trial, which commenced on
December 3. Adams presented evidence that blame for the tragedy lay both with the “mob” that gathered that March night and with England’s highly unpopular policy of quartering troops in a city. Adams told the jury: “Soldiers quartered in a populous town will always occasion two mobs where they prevent one.” He argued that the soldier who fired first acted only as one might expect anyone to act in such confused and potentially life-threatening conditions. “Do you expect that he should act like a stoic philosopher, lost in apathy?”, Adams asked the jury. “Facts are stubborn things,” he concluded, “and whatever may be our inclinations, or the dictums of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
The jury acquitted six of the eight soldiers, while two (Montgomery and Killroy) were convicted of manslaughter and branded on their thumbs.
Initial reaction to Adams role in the case was hostile. His law practice dropped by over half. In the long run, however, the courageous actions of Adams only enhanced his growing reputation.
Adams would, of course, go on to lead a long and exemplary life that is chronicled in David McCullough’s sympathetic new biography, John Adams. He would play a pivotal role in the Revolution, serve as George Washington’s vice-president, and then become the nation’s second president. As president, Adams appointed the great John Marshall as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He also most likely saved the Union, through his careful steering of a neutral course as war broke out between England and France. In the end, however, historian Sean Wilentz is probably accurate in his description of Adams as “a courageous and good man who fell out of touch with the country that he loved and that he served so diligently and often so well.” Adams saw the goal of government as a counterbalancing of classes and never really seemed to understand that the Revolution had replaced his ancient notion with a new one based on popular sovereignty.
Adams died in Quincy, Massachusetts on the fiftieth anniversary of American independence, July 4, 1826.
Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence. — John Adams, in defense of British soldiers.