Justice: Wall St. Journal vs. the Economist

One thing I’ve always liked about The Economist, in spite of the fact that I’ve never shared their sometimes too-fervent worship of the market, is the basic humanity that they hold up.

Though the liberal, free-market tradition has all but disappeared in the US, where being a free-marketeer seems to mean you must be narrow minded and provincial, in England it still seems to be possible to be an enthusiastic capitalist and to be tolerant, broad-minded, and able to admit to mistakes.

This article below is an example of the Economist at its best, I think

Sarah Conlon, campaigner for the innocent, died on July 19th, aged 82

Pacemaker Press

GOD knows she did what she could to keep her son Gerry safe. She called him to be in by seven for his tea, to stop him thinking he might wander down to Gilmartin’s pub or to the card-schools on the corner. . . . Sarah Conlon wanted their life to be respectable, holy, and quiet.

Guiseppe, her husband, was too ill to do much. He had worked at Harland & Wolf red-leading the hulls of ships, but the lead had got into his lungs and damaged them. . . .

When she last saw him in 1980 he was in Hammersmith hospital, dying. But he was handcuffed to a bed like a cage, with two warders guarding him. He had been in prison for five years, sentenced because the British police believed he had something to do with the IRA bombings at Guildford and Woolwich in 1974. In truth he had had nothing to do with it at all. He had been in England to get Gerry out of trouble, and it was not the first occasion.

And almost the next time she saw him he too was in prison in England, not for burglary, which he deserved, but for five counts of murder and conspiracy. Her son was now one of the “Guildford Four”, her sick husband one of the “Maguire Seven”, together with her brother Paddy, her sister-in-law Annie and her two schoolboy nephews. The British police, desperate to frame whoever they could, said Annie had a bomb-making factory in her kitchen in Kilburn. But Mrs Conlon knew how tidy she was, her house impeccable, and with a picture of the Queen on the wall.

All the years that Gerry and Guiseppe were in jail she tried to do what she could. . . .“Pray for the ones who told lies against you… It’s them who needs help as well as yourself.”

Prayer definitely helped. Had she not been doing the Stations of the Cross in the cathedral three nights a week, and had a priest there, Father McKinley, not noticed her crying when the 1977 appeal was turned down, she might never have been able to get her campaign going to free her relations and the others. But within a short time, many others helping, she was harrying MPs and ministers, the taoiseach and Cardinal Basil Hume himself, until in 1989 she was at the Old Bailey, a white carnation in her hand, to see the Guildford Four’s convictions quashed as unsound. The Maguires’ were overturned two years later. And she was not done yet. She had always wanted the British government to apologise, and in 2005 a petition was signed by more than 10,000 people. Tony Blair said sorry, and sent her a copy; and though she never sought the cameras, she posed for them with Gerry and the letter.

I’ve edited that, and it’s well worth reading in its entirety.

Thank goodness no one in our country would think of manipulating the justice system to influence public opinion: to make people think there’s a threat and that the threat is well in hand.

And no one in our country would think of excusing the jailing of innocents, or treating schmoes like Gerry Conlon as if they were big fish criminals, the worst of the worst.

And certainly no newspaper editor could countenance justifying these sorts of things.

The Hamdan Validation
Wall St Journal editorial
August 9, 2008; Page A10

On Thursday, a war crimes tribunal sentenced Salim Hamdan to a mere five and a half years in prison, which, with credit for time served, means that Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard and driver could be released as early as January. To borrow the obligatory media idiom, this “raises questions” about the process — namely one: Could anything happen at Guantanamo that isn’t “a stunning rebuke” or “an embarrassing blow” to the Bush Administration?

The sentence came down a day after Hamdan was absolved of the more serious of the two charges leveled against him. The prior political narrative was that the commissions amounted to a new Inquisition. But never mind. Some eminences claimed that Hamdan’s partial acquittal really meant he had been found “guilty as ordered.” Now a panel of senior military officers has rejected the 30-year sentence prosecutors requested — and we are told that also counts as a strike against military commissions.

If anything, Hamdan’s sentence again validates the fairness and due-process safeguards embedded in the system. The jury was independent and conscientious in its deliberations — to a fault, perhaps. Hamdan, after all, was far from the hapless chauffeur his white-shoe lawyers portrayed. During his trial, the prosecution played a 1998 video that showed Hamdan guarding bin Laden with a machine gun. Presumably al Qaeda’s leader didn’t hang around with armed personnel he didn’t trust.

Hamdan could be held indefinitely as an enemy combatant, but the political explosion that option would touch off makes it all but untenable. In five months, he is likely to be repatriated to Yemen. What’s bizarre is that even the release of a member of al Qaeda won’t convince the anti-antiterror movement of the legitimacy of military commissions.

And not a word about the administration that asked for a 30-year sentence for this man (and would have asked for the death penalty, no doubt, if they thought it would fly)?

It’s a good thing these guys are manning the barricades in defense of justice. We wouldn’t want anyone to be unfair to the Bush administration. Surely it is unfair to exaggerate the degree of their abuse of and contempt for every principle this country was founded upon.


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