But He’s Still Guilty: the First Civilian Terror Trial

Coverage of the conviction of Ahmed Ghailani on the charge of destroying government property (in connection with an embassy bombing), and his acquittal on other counts, seems to elide a certain basic truth: the man was convicted.

In grim obeyance to Rove’s Law, conservative websites focus on the minimum sentence (20 years), and omit any mention of the maximum sentence (life), except as a footnote. Facts that obliterate a thesis cannot be footnoted. This is the basic duty of candor owed by a writer to his readers. Until January of 2011, when Mr. Ghailani is sentenced, we cannot know whether he will ever walk free again. Sentencing is a nonseverable part of the criminal process, and this is not over.

Nor can Ghailani’s acquittal on other counts, a fact compelled by the Bush administration’s destruction of some evidence, and procural of other evidence by torture, support the conclusion that the rule of law simply cannot adjudicate some types of guilt. What it does prove is that lawful civilization is an all-or-nothing affair. From a relevant book:

Civilization depends on continually making the effort, on never giving in. It needs to be cared for by men of goodwill, protected from the dark.

Ghailani’s mixed conviction comes as an unbroken causal result of the Bush administration’s theory that civilization’s rules can be waived where inconvenient. One cannot compromise basic liberties and hope to avoid the ripple effect. When we transgress beyond the limits we place upon ourselves, we unleash wrongs that cannot be lightly contained.  The philosophy of the selectively civilized contains a basic sin against mankind, one we’ll be paying down for some time. This is a hard way to learn the lesson, but apparently, we’ll learn it no other way.

Note, too, that not even military commissions could have escaped this result. A district court on parallel habeas review would have reached the same conclusion, too.

This is what happens when we mortgage ourselves. From this case, we must take the lesson that a commitment to the rule of law comes with no caveats. If we are to be a nation of laws, those laws must bind all men, at all times.



  1. No comments at all? Wow. +1 from me Ames, I was just waiting for others to chime in b/c I have nothing to add, you nailed it.

  2. Thanks :-D. I’m deeply saddened that this appears to be the minority position…

  3. It may be a minority opinion, but you do have SOME company…

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