The war against terrorism has made it permissible to express patriotic feelings. Patriots are reveling in the first opportunity since World War II to hold America's enemies accountable without being denounced by the political left wing.
It is important to hold our enemies accountable, but we all have a stake in avoiding trumped-up charges. Emotional actions directed at scapegoats can set dangerous precedents that harm liberty.
Taliban John, the Californian captured fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan, is an unsympathetic figure. It is not for his sake that we must make certain that trumped-up charges are not a factor in his trial.
Among other offenses, Taliban John is charged with "conspiracy to kill Americans." This charge gives one pause.
Taliban John, a Muslim convert, had signed on with one side in an Afghan civil war prior to the involvement of the U.S. on the other side. He had no way of knowing that a Taliban ally, Osama bin Laden, would be involved in a horrendous event that would bring the U.S. into the Afghan civil war.
Taliban John is unlikely to have fired on American troops. The Taliban Afghan troops faced Northern Alliance Afghan troops. After September 11, the U.S. supplied the air power that turned the tide of the civil war. Once the U.S. was involved, Taliban John could not have confessed a change of heart to the Taliban and survived.
Taliban John was in the basement of a prison when an uprising broke out on upper floors that happened to take the life of an American CIA official. Is there evidence that Taliban John conspired in the action and that the uprising was a conspiracy to kill Americans?
We mustn't confuse the Taliban with al Qaeda. The Taliban are religious warriors drawn from various tribes. They were focused on Afghanistan where they were engaged in "nation-building" by attempting to use the authority of Islam to impose a central government on multi-ethnic tribal politics.
Al Qaeda is a terrorist organization focused on the capitalist West.
Bin Laden's help in driving out the Soviets brought him Afghan gratitude that enabled him to pursue purposes of his own. As bin Laden was armed with his own troops, the U.S. demand that the Taliban turn him over was probably unrealistic.
The trouble with trumped-up charges is that they become a habit. The Justice Department is already too inclined in that direction. It was the Justice Department that accused Exxon of running the Valdez oil tanker aground for the purposes of "dumping refuse without a permit" and "killing migratory birds without a license."
Who in their right mind would believe that $150 million worth of crude oil was "refuse" and that a company wrecked one of its ships in order to kill birds?
Unfortunately, trumped-up charges are routine in our criminal justice system. The latest is in Dallas where major drug charges against 39 separate individuals have been thrown out. The "evidence" against them turned out to be ground up wallboard, packaged to look like cocaine, that had been planted in their cars or on their property.
The narcotics agents claimed field tests showed the substance was cocaine. Certified lab tests were not required unless the accused went to trial. Most did not, being coerced instead into plea bargains and sent to prison on the bogus evidence.
The Dallas police were working with an informant, who was paid $200,000, apparently to plant the bogus cocaine on innocent people.
Last year's scandal was frame-ups by the Los Angeles police. Before that, the FBI crime lab, the New York State Police, and the Wenatchee, Washington, frame-ups of 26 people on fabricated child sex abuse charges. This list of trumped-up charges is long and growing.
At some point "law and order" conservatives must come to terms with the fact that it is easier for police and prosecutors to frame the innocent than to convict the guilty on the evidence.
Taliban John should be accused and punished. Trumped-up charges are not necessary to hold him accountable. It would be a grave mistake for Americans to tolerate trumped-up charges simply because they are outraged by the defendant.
Paul Craig Roberts is the author of The Tyranny of Good Intentions : How Prosecutors and Bureaucrats Are Trampling the Constitution in the Name of Justice.
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