Friday, January 22, 2016

Guilty of everything: How America scapegoats a public dissident

1. Justice is uncertain.

That seems apparent today.

The impunity of police to kill has finally been proven in public opinion, with repeated high-profile killings culminating in special coverage from the Washington Post - perhaps for the first time, fatal shootings by police have been tracked by a national institution (the government does not see a need), and the newspaper found that 987 people were killed by police in 2015.

In the pursuit of justice, you don't just die in the streets. You might survive the encounter on the street, but once arrested, you will have to pay a sum likely to be unaffordable to you: 50% of Americans cannot afford a $400 emergency expense. Costs vary widely by location, but in many, bail is never that low - prompting the purchase of a bail bond, which costs 10% of the total bond, assuming you make it to court.

Survival in jail is hard - but justice is still moving at this stage, in the form of jurisprudence. Anyone who has been to traffic court recently has witnessed first-hand how little evidence a judge or prosecution needs to determine guilt. Two excellent examples have been media sensations: recently, Making a Murderer proved that even tampering with evidence, planting testimony and misleading (in fact, explicitly incorrect) expert testimony can be treated as admissible and accurate evidence, even with a rigorous, experienced defense team directly challenging that evidence.

Making a Murderer presented a chilling reminder of just how unreliable police/prosecutor testimony can be: the very same methods used to try and convict countless people for supposed "Satanic Ritual Abuse" in the 80s and 90s were in use in the early 2000s. Detectives, knowing that their interviewee was not likely to provide corroborating testimony, coached and led their susceptible witnesses to provide the statements they needed for a conviction. Often the interviews eerily remind of the techniques used by teachers and parents to coax the right answer out of a child: if they say they didn't do anything, you tell them they are lying, and remind them of what you want them to hear.
 "In courts, when juries were able to see recordings or transcripts of interviews with children, the alleged abusers were acquitted. The reaction by successful prosecutors, spread throughout conventions and conferences on SRA, was to destroy, or fail to take notes of the interviews in the first place" (ibid)
Precisely the same drama plays out in making a murderer: a damning video of an interview with Brendan Dassey shows him being guided and pressured to make specific claims, and told he is "lying" when he fails to do so, or when he states that those claims are wrong (as he usually does, at first). The same video is shown, played for a jury - however, excluded is the portion before and after the "confession" where Dassey explicitly denies those claims, and is chided for doing so.

In the case of Satanic Ritual Abuse, the introduction of videotaping as a standard for witness interviews initially served to prove just how easy it was for the testimony to be contrived, and it led to many exonerations and acquittals. the prosecution responded by advising interviewers to selectively record interviews, to develop higher "quality" evidence - that is evidence which is cherry-picked and biased.

2. Bowe Bergdahl: a magnet for guilt

The military is set to try Bowe Bergdahl for "desertion" and "misbehavior before the enemy." Like Steven Avery, Bergdahl has been tried publicly already - to such an extent that all (or nearly all) current contenders for the US presidency have weighed in on the case. Popular opinion holds him responsible (not unlike Snowden) of additionally endangering the lives of soldiers attempting to find and rescue him. In fact, that became a secondary goal of all missions in Afghanistan at the time.

The effect is to treat every mission in the interim as if he was responsible for its outcome. It's like a corollary of collective punishment - but it should make it easy to apply capital punishment to every case where an outlaw is AWOL for any length of time.

This tangential relationship between responsibility and culpability is precisely the absurdity that justifies why tribesmen with no access to electronic media could be treated as collectively responsible to capture and deliver Osama, lest they suffer bombing raids. In fact, that is precisely the justification that was used for this example of a war crime - collective punishment.

Public opinion, and maybe this court case, hinge on the question: why did he leave? But it doesn't matter why he left his post. The fact remains that justice will not be served if his trial is overshadowed, and influenced by the pre-judgement of public opinion, and the failure of 2+ administrations:
"John Heuer met Bergdahl in August at a “veterans for peace” convention in San Diego.
“We’re concerned that Bergdahl may be  possibly treated as a scapegoat for failed policy 15 years of warfare in Afghanistan that has failed to achieve objectives,” Heuer said." (ibid)

The war has failed to achieve critical objectives such as a sustainable, legitimate central authority which could rout the Taliban. It has demonstrably heightened certain crises - such as drastically increasing illicit opium output from within the state's borders. These failures are palatable, and the public nature of the Bergdahl case makes impartiality an unlikely burden for jurisprudence to meet.

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