Sunday, January 22, 2012

We no longer believe in due process

A rather depressing conclusion from Glen Greenwald:
The U.S. really is a society that simply no longer believes in due process: once the defining feature of American freedom that is now scorned as some sort of fringe, radical, academic doctrine. That is not hyperbole. Supporters of both political parties endorse, or at least tolerate, all manner of government punishment without so much as the pretense of a trial, based solely on government accusation: imprisonment for life, renditions to other countries, even assassinations of their fellow citizens. Simply uttering the word Terrorist, without proving it, is sufficient. And now here is Megaupload being completely destroyed — its website shuttered, its assets seized, ongoing business rendered impossible — based solely on the unproven accusation of Piracy.

It’s true, as Sanchez observes, that “the owners of Megaupload don’t seem like particularly sympathetic characters,” but he also details that there are difficult and weighty issues that would have to be resolved to prove they engaged in criminal conduct. Megaupload obviously contains numerous infringing videos, but so does YouTube, yet both sites also entail numerous legal activities as well. As Sanchez put it: “most people, presumably, recognize that shutting down YouTube in order to disable access to those videos would not be worth the enormous cost to protected speech.” The Indictment is a classic one-side-of-the-story document; even the most mediocre lawyers can paint any picture they want when unchallenged. That’s why the government is not supposed to dole out punishments based on accusatory instruments, but only after those accusations are proved in an adversarial proceeding.

Whatever else is true, those issues should be decided upon a full trial in a court of law, not by government decree. Especially when it comes to Draconian government punishments — destroying businesses, shutting down websites, imprisoning people for life, assassinating them — what distinguishes a tyrannical society from a free one is whether the government is first required to prove guilt in a fair, adversarial proceeding. This is a precept Americans were once taught about why their country was superior, was reflexively understood, and was enshrined as the core political principle: “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” It’s simply not a principle that is believed in any longer, and therefore is not remotely observed.

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