I am puzzled. Until recently I have been optimistic that the new President might move American ideals of justice from being "more honor'd in the breach than the observance" to a new level of integration into the national zeitgeist.
There are many statements by American thinkers that clearly delineate the essential requirements of the rule of law. An example is the declaration of Thomas Jefferson to Issac Tiffany, "Law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual."
This is easily seen in many nations and is frequently brought to our attention in recent times concerning actions under Sharia by the Taliban and similar agencies. Those who offend the rulers will be punished without any due process or chance to defend because the verdict is already a foregone conclusion. The U.S., Canada and certain European nations are currently in Afghanistan attempting to impose a regime that is more respectful of the rule of law.
What then are we to make of Mr. Obama's recent statement concerning the upcoming trial of an individual accused of terrorism? “I don't think it will be offensive at all when he is convicted and when the death penalty is applied to him." What about that of the highest ranking legal officer in the country? “Failure is not an option,” Holder said. “These are cases that have to be won. I don’t expect we will have a contrary result.”
When the leader who receives from a large segment of the citizenry a submissive deference that would be the envy of many monarchs pronounces the sentence before the trial begins, what are the chances for any presumption of innocence? The fact that there may already be a substantial body of evidence in the public domain does not transfer the judicial function to the Executive to permit a declaration of guilt and a pronouncement of sentence.
Justice Rand of the Supreme Court of Canada in Boucher v. The Queen said, “The role of prosecutor excludes any notion of winning or losing; his function is a matter of public duty than which in civil life there can be none charged with greater personal responsibility. It is to be efficiently performed with an ingrained sense of the dignity, the seriousness and the justness of judicial proceedings”.
Having said that, I recognize that my own country is not free of taint. A parliamentary committee is presently investigating allegations that government officials knew that detainees being transferred by the Canadian military to the Afghan authorities were in danger of torture.
Driving to work I pass a business that flies a large Canadian flag which they lower to half-mast each time a member of the Canadian Armed Forces dies in Afghanistan. It flies at the lower level with distressing frequency. Young American lives are lost at a similar rate.
It saddens me that these sacrifices are asked on our behalf by politicians who do not respect the ideals on which they are supposedly founded.