The Christmas season is a time to remember the unfortunate, among whom are those who have been wrongly convicted.
In the United States, the country with the largest prison population in the world, the number of wrongly convicted is very large. Hardly any felony charges are resolved with trials. The vast majority of defendants, both innocent and guilty, are coerced into plea bargains. Not only are the innocent framed, but the guilty as well. It is quicker and less expensive to frame the guilty than to convict them on the evidence.
Many Americans are wrongfully convicted, because they trust the justice system. They naively believe that police and prosecutors are moved by evidence and have a sense of justice. The trust they have in authorities makes them easy victims of a system that has no moral conscience and is untroubled by the injustice it perpetrates.
Lt. William Strong, son of a military family, tired of his wife's unfaithfulness and filed for divorce. The unfaithful wife retaliated by accusing Strong of rape. There was no evidence of rape, but Strong was deceived into a plea bargain. Once Strong entered a plea, he was double-crossed and given 60 years.
Christophe Gaynor took an adolescent skate board team to New York City for a competition. One of the kids attempted to buy illicit drugs. Gaynor threatened to tell the boy's parents, and the boy preempted Gaynor by accusing him of sexual molestation.
Gaynor was openly framed in the Arlington, Virginia, court system.
Americans, or perhaps more accurately some Americans, were horrified by the photographs showing the torture of Iraqi detainees in Abu Ghraib by the US military. The Senate Armed Services Committee has issued a report which concludes that the torture policy originated at the highest level of the Bush administration. Those Americans with a moral conscience have reeled under further revelations—the torture of Guantanamo detainees, the transport of people seized by US authorities to third world countries to be tortured.
We have to ask ourselves why American service men and women and CIA operatives delight in torturing people about whom they know nothing? It has been well known since the Stalin era that torture never produces accurate information. Yet US soldiers and CIA personnel jumped at the green light given to torture by President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and the US Department of Justice. Why weren't our soldiers shocked instead at the immorality of their leaders?
One answer is that the US military no longer operates according to a code of honor. Military discipline in the traditional sense does not exist. The ethos of the US military has degenerated into kick-ass macho. Major General Taguba, who, instead of covering up the Abu Ghraib scandal, attempted in his report to hold the US military to its traditional principles, was forced to resign from the US Army.
Another answer is that the work of torture, like police work and prosecutorial work, attracts brutal people who enjoy inflicting harm on others. The two Republican female US Attorneys in Alabama who framed Democratic Governor Siegelman enjoyed ruining Siegelman and bringing grief to his family.
Deborah Davies of the BBC's Channel 4 undertook a four-month investigation of the torture of American prisoners inside American prisons. Videos taken by sadistic prison guards and videos recovered from surveillance cameras reveal horrible acts of torture and even of murder of prisoners by prison guards.
An American prison reformer told Deborah Davies: "We've become immune to the abuse. The brutality has become customary."
Few Americans seem to be disturbed as these inhumane and illegal practices continue unabated. Americans continue to see themselves as the salt of the earth, the "indispensable people."
"Law and order conservatives" have a great responsibility for this evil. Just as "law and order conservatives" created hysteria among the people about crime, they created hysteria about terrorists. Hysterical people condone great evils and arm government with power in the mistaken belief that it will protect them.
What kind of people have we become when we exercise no oversight over a criminal justice (sic) system that destroys the lives of innocent people and locks them away in prisons to be tortured by sadistic guards?
Paul Craig Roberts [email him] was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury during President Reagan's first term. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal. He has held numerous academic appointments, including the William E. Simon Chair, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Georgetown University, and Senior Research Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He was awarded the Legion of Honor by French President Francois Mitterrand. He is the author of Supply-Side Revolution : An Insider's Account of Policymaking in Washington; Alienation and the Soviet Economy and Meltdown: Inside the Soviet Economy, and is the co-author with Lawrence M. Stratton of The Tyranny of Good Intentions : How Prosecutors and Bureaucrats Are Trampling the Constitution in the Name of Justice. Click here for Peter Brimelow's Forbes Magazine interview with Roberts about the recent epidemic of prosecutorial misconduct.