Saturday, December 13, 2014

Wouldn't It Be Nice

Indictments are formal charges of a serious crime. They are charges, not verdicts. The idea behind them is they raise a question of guilt. They are not admissions of guilt. They are questions. From there, prosecutors and defense attorneys set about collecting evidence and witnesses intended to support or diminish the claims made in that question. A grand jury's job is not to determine guilt or innocence. A grand jury's job is to conduct official proceedings to investigate potential criminal conduct and to determine whether criminal charges should be brought. It is only after those charges are filed that the trial begins. We are led to understand that indicting a police officer is a very difficult task. There are those who disagree. Even here in the very troubled corner of the country, Alameda County, It took a good deal of public pressure and some compromises, but Johannes Mehserle was arrested and eventually convicted of shooting and killing an unarmed man, Oscar Grant. Was justice served? At the time, the guilty verdict for involuntary manslaughter felt like someone was getting away with murder. In hindsight, it seems like a comparatively functional use of the justice system. What has changed in five years? Are we more aware of the problem? Are we working toward some sort of systemic change?
Maybe this will help: This past Wednesday, a top U.N. Special investigator said that senior U.S. officials who authorized and carried out torture as part of former President George W. Bush's national security policy must be prosecuted. Ben Emmerson, the U.N.'s special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, said in addition that all CIA and other U.S. officials who used waterboarding and other torture techniques must be prosecuted. So there it is: an indictment. Will George W. Bush and Dick "Dick" Cheney ever see the inside of a courtroom? It seems at this point unlikely, but it's like that old joke about what you would call the Bush administration being handcuffed and hauled off to jail? A good start.

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