Manning and Mohammed cases
: Tilting the scales of justice
President Obama and Atty. Gen. Holder are improperly putting pressure on those who will judge the Bradley Manning and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed cases.
By Morris Davis
April 27, 2011
"Command influence is the mortal enemy of military justice."
Robinson O. Everett, former chief judge of what is now the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, wrote those powerful words in 1986. They underscore the importance of banning the power inherent in command from military courtrooms. Congress wrote such a ban into the Uniform Code of Military Justice more than 60 year ago, recognizing that true justice requires the unbiased application of the law to the facts on scales that are not tipped by the fingers of extrajudicial forces.
Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is accused of leaking a trove of documents to WikiLeaks, faces serious court-martial charges, including aiding the enemy. If convicted, Manning could spend the rest of his life behind bars. Under one of the most fundamental of all rights, he is presumed innocent until legal and competent evidence overcomes that presumption beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
Now a video is circulating of President Obama, the commander in chief of the armed forces, in conversation at a
In 1949, Gerald Ford, then a congressman from
When the jurors retire to the deliberation room at the Manning court-martial, they will not have to speculate on the answer; arguably the most important "Old Man" of them all has spoken, and he said Manning is guilty.
The military commissions that will try the
The behavior of this administration gives an inkling of why it was necessary. In November 2009, Obama defended his decision to prosecute Mohammed in federal court (a decision he subsequently abandoned), saying no one would question it "when [Mohammed is] convicted and when the death penalty is applied to him." Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. made similar remarks, telling the Senate Judiciary Committee
All participants in the military commissions are accountable to the commander in chief. Many, in addition to their status as uniformed military reserve officers, are career employees of the Department of Justice. When the attorney general says that only a guilty verdict is acceptable, and the commander in chief endorses the death penalty for an accused who has not been convicted, they undermine confidence in justice by injecting the appearance of undue influence.
Will the attorneys and the judges exercise independent professional judgment, or will independence bend to the express will of their superiors? Will the officers on the board at Mohammed's military commission deliberate over the law and evidence, or will they just do what the administration expects them to do? Will we be able to tell now that the administration has made its position public?
Pandering, hubris and contempt for "quaint" legal principles are as unacceptable in the current administration as they were in the last. It is the notorious cases with unsympathetic defendants such as Manning and Mohammed where
When the judicial process becomes a stage for political theater — when justice appears to be scripted rather than blind — we have lost sight of the values we purport to be fighting to defend.
Morris Davis is a retired Air Force colonel. He was chief prosecutor for the military commissions at
Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs