Punishment Before Trial – Our New Justice System?

In recent cases it looks like some people, not proven guilty or innocent, get punished, not by a Judge or a jury but by people with power looking to push political agendas instead of upholding the justice process.

From:
http://www.salon.com/news/politics/war_room/2011/08/22/washington_courts_911/index.html

From the article:

The urge to punish before a verdict comes in reflects the same deep-seated conviction that the U.S. court system is simply not to be trusted to do its job. Two recent cases — that of whistleblowers Thomas Drake and Bradley Manning — illustrate how, in cases where national security is believed to be at stake, Obama-era pre-trial treatment has taken up the distrust of the courts, civilian or military, that characterized the Bush years.

Drake, an executive for the National Security Agency (NSA), became a whistleblower over what he considered mistaken policy decisions about an ill-performing data-sifting program which, among other things, he thought squandered taxpayer money. Subsequently, he revealed his disagreement with the agency’s warrantless wire-tapping program, which he believed overstepped legal boundaries. Charged initially with violating the Espionage Act and threatened with a draconian 35-year jail sentence, Drake finally pled this past June to a misdemeanor count of “exceeding the authorized use of a government computer.”

In Drake’s four-year saga, his pre-punishment took the form not of pre-trial detention but of the destruction of his livelihood. He was initially fired from the NSA and from the National Defense University position to which the NSA had assigned him. Once indicted in 2010, he was forced to resign from a subsequent teaching post at Strayer University. All told, the formal and informal hounding of Drake resulted in the loss of his jobs and pension, as well as $82,000 in legal costs. Ultimately, Drake was sentenced to a year’s probation and 240 hours of mandatory community service. By that time, he had been ruined financially and professionally, thanks to the government’s disparagement of him and the multi-year delay between its accusations and the lodging of formal charges against him. Drake now works at an Apple Store. In other words, well before the government took its chances in court, Thomas Drake was punished.

Another highly publicized case where punishment preceded trial has been the mistreatment of Army Private Bradley Manning while in military custody in a Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia, awaiting charges. The Obama administration believes he turned over a trove of secret military and State Department documents to the website WikiLeaks. Following his arrest, Manning was kept in subhuman conditions. He was forced to sleep naked and to strip for daily inspections, though as news about his situation generated bad publicity, he was eventually allowed to sleep in a “tear-proof” gown.

There is something deeply disturbing about the very different ways Manning and Drake were pre-punished by the government — both directly in the case of Manning and indirectly in the case of Drake — before being given due process of any kind. Like bin Laden’s killing, both cases reflect an unspoken worry in Washington that our courts will prove insufficiently ruthless and so incapable of giving the “obviously guilty” what they “obviously” deserve.

The Judge in the Drake case noticed this.

In the Drake case, Judge Richard Bennett was similarly distraught about the evident excesses in the government’s approach. At sentencing for the single minor count to which Drake agreed to plead, the judge bluntly refused to impose the $50,000 fine the prosecution was pushing for on the grounds that punishment had already been administered — prior to the court process. “There has been financial devastation wrought upon this defendant,” said Bennett, “that far exceeds any fine that can be imposed by me. And I’m not going to add to that in any way. And it’s very obvious to me in terms of some of the irritation I’ve expressed… not only my concern over the delay in this case… [but also the prosecution’s] inability to explain … the delay in this case… I think that somebody somewhere in the U.S. government has to say… that the American public deserves better than this.”

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