Friday, May 14, 2010

US justice system up to UK, European standards?

Blogging about the trial of José Padilla in 2007, strongly disagreeing with many newspaper editorials on the verdict, I concluded: "Perhaps the real lesson of this trial is something altogether more ominous: that no man can be assured of a fair trial in a US court today if the US government decides to paint you as 'a terrorist.'"

Since that time, civil libertarians in the US have fought long battles for the right of terror suspects to have access to American civilian courts.  It's a fight that civil libertarians seem farther from winning today -- 16 months into the Obama Administration -- than at the end of 2008.  (In fact, lately US politicians are lining up to pass laws that would strip anyone accused of terrorism of fundamental rights).   Throughout most of the debate in the US, it has been assumed that an American civilian trial is a fair trial.   But is the assumption valid?

Defense lawyer Gareth Peirce thinks not. Writing in the London Review of Books, Peirce examines the operation of the US criminal justice system from a European and British perspective:
Forced to investigate conditions in the US, and to enlist the help of defence lawyers there in establishing otherwise unreported data, extraditees have come to understand that practice after practice is accepted as standard in America which, in Europe, could risk the prohibition of a trial, or subsequently cause its nullification, or bring an end to the conditions of imprisonment it stipulated. Within a system of criminal justice that for all of us, from a lifetime of watching procedural dramas, seems more familiar than our own, there are profoundly disturbing features which do not accord with the assumptions we continue to maintain, despite the actions of the previous administration, about the constitution of the United States. 
On account of some serious flaws in the US justice system, Peirce anticipates that ever fewer European courts are likely to approve extradition of terror suspects to America.

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