Thursday, June 08, 2006
While the media spends the next few days breathlessly heralding the story of
Goldstein's Zarqawi's latest death. I am sure Rumsfeld, Bush and others will be quick to overstate the importance of this latest development, especially when it comes to justifying the next round of supplemental appropriations for this "central front" on the War On Terror.
Instead of being distracted by this, I think it's important to consider recent reports from the most important "central front" of this global war -- the home front. I'm specifically talking about a recent case where secret evidence was used to charge people with crimes the jury didn't think they committed, yet they were still convicted and sentenced to terms the judge felt were unjustified.
You read that right. The department of pre-crime is handing out warrants to the thought police, and they're forcing courts to hand out life sentences.
Most people, haven't followed the "Virginia Jihad" case, sometimes referred to as "the paintball gang" case. You probably think it was about a group of American Muslims who were training for terrorist activities against the United States. A less compelling tale emerges if you look at the actual convictions. To begin with, no one was charged with anything representing a threat to the United States. That didn't keep some of them from getting sentenced to life in prison without parole.
None of the convictions handed down were for planning an act of terrorism. Prosecutors presented no evidence that any of the 11 convicted men had planned U.S. attacks. At best they were convicted for being pro-terrorist. That may seem like a fine point to some, but I will let a supporter of this trial and its verdict demonstrate the real threat this represents -- to all of us right here in the USA:
"We're arresting people for talking about things, thinking about things, training for things," said Andrew McBride, a former federal prosecutor in Alexandria. "I think you will see more of it as the government moves from a traditional criminal law model of post-event reaction to pre-event interdiction.
When you consider this in the context of the NSA's data mining program, it is clear we are looking at a department of pre-crime dedicated to convicting suspects of thought crimes. As one anonymous source told the Washington Post:
"They were walking around the national capital area with training in small arms, infantry tactics, any number of skills that could be used to mount a strike," the official said. "It has to be unacceptable to wait until there is a threat of actual direct violence to take action."
On the face of it, that sounds ominous. No one suggests waiting until the Mall is littered with bodies, but the key point that gets glossed over here is the doctrine of pre-emption has come home to roost. They are not going to even wait until there is a threat. That is a far cry from what happened in Canada recently. Those guys tried to buy three tons of ammonium nitrate. The magnitude of this shift becomes obvious when you consider the description of these guys used to justify their prosecution describes virtually anyone who has ever had military training, or hunting experience.
It is true six guys plead guilty to conspiracy charges. Some would point to that as clear evidence that they were terrorists. Others might point to that as evidence that they didn't want to roll the dice in the Rocket Docket or risk being reclassified as enemy combatants with no rights at all. That's a problem when secret evidence is used to make decisions about people who are convicted because they were considered potential threats. Consider the most recent conviction:
Ali Asad Chandia, was convicted on three counts of providing material support to Lashkar [a Pakistani group fighting India over Kashmir] or conspiring to do so and acquitted on a fourth. He faces up to 45 years in prison. Prosecutors said Chandia trained at a Lashkar camp in Pakistan and worked with others to help the group acquire equipment with possible military applications.
A juror, Robert Stosch, said yesterday that most panel members did not believe Chandia attended the camp but convicted him primarily because he had helped another defendant ship 50,000 paintballs for use by Lashkar.
But Stosch added that he thought the case "shouldn't have been brought at all. It was very insignificant." And he said the whole investigation was "way too minor, regardless of whether they convicted 11 people."
I am all for going after terrorists and criminals. However, something is terribly wrong when the jury convicting you doesn't believe you did the crime you are being charged with committing. The problem I have is that new mandatory sentencing guidelines put the prosecutors in the drivers seat by effectively removing judicial prerogatives. Here's what the judge reportedly said about this case when she reduced the sentences:
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema said at the time she imposed those sentences that they were "draconian" and "sticking in my craw" but that she had no choice because of congressionally mandated minimum sentences for certain firearms convictions.
At Friday's hearings, Brinkema repeated her assertion that the sentences were draconian, but said she had limited ability to alter them. That's because the Supreme Court ruling affects only the federal sentencing guidelines and not the mandatory minimums imposed by Congress that drove the lengthy terms imposed on Khan and Chapman.
As a result, Khan's sentence was reduced only to life plus 45 years. Chapman, 32, had his sentence reduced from 85 years to 65 years. There is no parole in the federal system, so both will have to serve the vast majority of their terms.
"I have a limited ability to impose what I consider to be an appropriate sentence," Brinkema said. "These statutes are really draconian. I've said it before and I'll say it again."
What does it mean when the judge who convicted two of the men on weapons charges also acknowledged they both have a strong argument on appeal for getting the firearm counts overturned? If you think that means these guys get treated like Fastow, Skilling, and Lay, who get to stay out of jail until their appeals are exhausted - think again.
For those who want to paint this as a limp-wristed terrorist sympathizer who is in bed with the anti-American commies at the ACLU, consider this: If the government can put people in jail for life for exercising their second amendment rights based on what they were thinking... what makes you think they can't put you in jail for exercising any other right based on what they believe you are thinking?