Sunday, October 9, 2011

An Undue Process: A Tale of Troy Davis and Anwer Al AwSnap

It was the best of times.  

A convicted murderer of a police officer received his lethal injection after decades on death row.  Troy Davis had also shot somebody else and pistol-whipped a homeless person.  The police officer was coming to the aid of the homeless person.  During his trial, numerous witnesses testified that they had seen him either shoot one guy or kill the other.  Pretty solid case.  So solid that the jury found him guilty within two hours of deliberations.  

Al Qaeda and the Taliban seemed to be on the run, scattering elsewhere and repositioning themselves in Pakistan.  The founder of Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, was reportedly killed.  A leading recruiter of Al Qaeda, Anwar Al-Awlaki, was killed a few months later.  The war on terror was seeing major progress.  

It was the worst of times. 

During the time after Troy Davis's first trial, key witnesses recanted their testimony.  One alleged eyewitness, Dorothy Ferrell, was a recanter.  You might scoff, "Ah, her testimony could not have been that important if it is easily recanted." Well, I hope you want some sugar in your scoffee because Dorothy testified that she had seen Davis slay a person from her room across the street.

Is that bitter?

Might need more sugar. 

Dorothy also said that she felt forced to testify the way she did because she was on parole for a shoplifting conviction and the DA's office had agreed to a plea dea
l in exchange for her testimony. 

She pointed the finger at somebody for murder in exchange for help for a shoplifting conviction? (you can push play now)  

(Definitely need more sugar.)

This is the part where a lawyer's/law student's mouth drops.  

Truly, it may have been a blunder on the attorneys to not properly look into each witness. These days, finding out that a witness for the prosecution is currently in plea negotiations is something to always look for in order to discredit witness testimony. All the defense attorney has to say is "Oh, hey, jury, check this out: She's only saying this stuff because if she does, SHE will get less time for a crime she committed." Then again, there were 34 witnesses for the prosecution. To look into the background of each one would take an enormous amount of time. 

Dorothy was not the only recanter. Three other key witnesses stated they felt pressured to say what they did. Another was threatened to be charged as an accomplice if he did not testify against Troy Davis. Jurors later said if they had known then what they knew now, they would have tried harder in school.  They would have also not convicted Troy Davis. Ever. 

"I'm not actually Atticus Finch, 
but I do play him in a movie. 
And darnit, PETA, stop thinking 
that birds were killed in that movie!  
Nothing was killed in the movie.  
Well, actually, crap, that's incorrect."  

(During some points of that last clause, if you are a true American patriot, you could only see "revere". If, at any point, you saw "evergreen", you are illiterate.)

It seems that a black man was tied to a crime in the South even though the evidence was doubtful. 

Boy oh boy, where is Atticus Finch when you need him? 

Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden was shot, killed, and thrown overboard into a sea all before President Barack Obama strutted away from the podium announcing that bin Laden was dead. (If you want to read more on OBL, read this entry.) Al-Awlaki had something coming his way. He had just started riding shotgun in a pickup truck and had probably just turned on his favorite Jock Jams volume (to remind him of his good ol days as an American youth) before a missile came out of nowhere and jammed his jock.

Went from listening to "boom boom boom"
to going boom, boom, boom.
What?  Too soon, soon soon?
Yes, he was an American. He was born in New Mexico. No matter how vile his actions, no matter how morally reprehensible, he still was entitled to his day in court. The United States had a law in place for acts involving terrorism. 

Yes, there was a law in place for exactly what Al-Awlaki did. 

It is part of a relatively unknown act called the US PATRIOT Act. Under sections 18 USC 2339A and 2339B (the material support to terrorists and material support to terrorist organizations laws, respectively), these statutes state that if somebody knowingly provides support to a known terrorist or terrorist organization, then he will be imprisoned for, at most, 15 years. If their actions result in the loss of life, then they may receive life imprisonment. The death penalty applies for those guilty of treason, of gathering or delivering defense information to aid a foreign government, or a list of other reasons under section 3591(a)(2)

However, the death penalty can only be given after a trial.

So the case against al-Awlaki was pretty much air-tight.  All America had to do was find him, arrest him, and bring him to trial.  Yet, a memo within the walls of the White House skipped the steps of due process and stated that he was killable.

Killable, not kill a bill.
The US Government alleges that he could not be captured.  One of the reasons he could not be captured was because the US did not want to get stuck in a quagmire of diplomatic relations if US troops touched down on Yemeni soi...sand. (Which the Obama administration may or may not have considered when touching down in Pakistan to take out OBL.) This further makes no sense because Yemen had granted the US permission to fire missiles in Yemen, all the US had to do was ask Yemen if they could pretty please land in Yemen really quick. We are Americans, we are great at going into places really quick.

"Yo, wait up, I just gotta run in and use the bathroom real quick."

It was the age of wisdom.

Judges have an enormous weight on their shoulders.  (Some even have an enormous weight on their bellies.)  You may remember the following from your elementary school U.S. government course.  The judicial branch interprets the laws.  Under the judiciary, we have attorneys who are to use the law to represent others.  District Attorney Spencer Lawton, the lead prosecutor for the Troy Davis case, adamantly states that there were ample opportunities for the court to overturn the conviction, if it needed to be overturned.  In fact, Mr. Lawton informs the public that there were 14 appearances before six courts.  The US Supreme Court even ordered an evidentiary hearing in 2009.  This meant that defense counsel could present any and all evidence for review by the court.  At the end of that hearing, the judge was not convinced. The conviction was still upheld.  The judge did his job.  He interpreted the law as he saw fit.  

Walker, Taliban Ranger
The lawyers who work in the executive branch are some of the brightest legal minds in the nation. They spent a countless amount of hours in researching caselaw to see how to play this out.  (Actually, they are lawyers, so those hours are not countless and the appropriate billing amount for the hours worked has been charged.)  Plenty of American terrorists had been captured and tried.  But no American terrorist ever had a hit on his head.  John Walker Lindh was an American citizen and member of Al-Qaeda, but he did not have a hit on his head, he was just captured during a battle.  These great brains put their minds together to put together a terrific strategy.  

They must have been confident in their findings, because the Department of Defense tracked al-Awlaki for some time and then killed him.    

It was the age of foolishness.

Sometimes, upholding the law is blurred with upholding one's self-interests. With Troy Davis, the DA had slam dunked a case; but with witnesses allegedly recanting, things could have ruined this DA's career. Especially once everybody found out about the bits and pieces of evidence the DA may not have disclosed.  Or, perhaps the whole Doubt Movement that was to help Troy Davis was all a bunch of foolishness.  Davis had multiple tries before multiple courts to have his conviction overturned.  If all those courts did not see anything to bring about doubt, then how could the people continue to declare there was doubt?  Whereas, on the other hand, if all those people did see everything to bring about doubt, then how could those courts continue to declare that there was no doubt?   

The only way a judge can interpret the law is if he has parties before him, which are usually brought by the executive branch. This is because the executive branch enforces the law. Police officers, for example, are under the executive branch. The military also falls under the executive branch (Department of Defense). So, for a court to hear out both sides to al-Awlaki's issues, the military would need to bring him in. 

Except that the executive branch decided he did not need to be brought in.

He just needed to be taken out.

And this is where the checks and balances system failed.

The three branches of government are a system of checks and balances on each other, to ensure that one branch does not become too powerful. For the executive branch to bypass the rule of law and order the killing of an American citizen simply bypasses the judicial branch. The proper thing to do would be to capture al-Alwaki, bring him before a court, and let the court takes its course.  It seems that the Obama administration went through such a trial in figuring out how they could kill al-Awlaki that it made it okay for that trial to take the place of an actual trial. 

It was the epoch of belief.

"Hey, I also sound like I'm from
Anwar Al-Awlaki was a man with influence. Why? All one has to do is watch his videos. He is not a guy who yells in a loud voice. His beard is not scraggly, but quite thick and full. His voice makes you do a double take. You see a man who looks like he is straight from Arabia, but he sounds like a guy from Baltimore. His speeches talk much about stories that happened in early Islamic history and are even pleasant to hear. Also, he wears glasses that look like John Lennon's glasses. Surely, this guy must be a good guy!

With Troy Davis, nobody knew what to believe. In his court case, the jury believed one thing. In his media case, everybody believed something else. One jury of his peers found him guilty within two hours, whereas the national jury of his peers continued to find him not guilty for two decades.

Maybe if he looked more like her...?

It was the epoch of incredulity.
Anwar al-Awlaki spoke on how much he loved peace and how he wanted all to know that Islam is a religion of peace. That is, until the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan happened. He believed that this was a war on Islam and so, in return, there must be a war on America. It is scary that he could pinpoint the moment when he went from your average peace-loving Muslim to your Osama-bin-HatinAmerica types. More incredulous, still, is that he kind of looks like Bob Saget. 

"Good night, Michelle" vs. "Good night, from Hell."
Ok, not really.

He was connected to other domestic terrorists through internet forums. He was connected to terrorism through his subsequent videos denouncing America and calling for jihad. The evidence was clear. But the evidence never had a chance to be seen in court.

For Troy Davis, the evidence was not so clear.

The one thing that continues to be clear is that there was a perversion of justice. A famous quote says

Justice delayed is justice denied.
And what is justice denied? Well, that's something we'd have to ask Troy Davis and Anwer al-Awlaki.

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