Human Rights First Responds

By Benjamin Wittes
Thursday, November 18, 2010, 6:28 PM

In my post earlier today concerning CCR's terrible statement on the Ghalani verdict, I noted that Daphne Eviatar of Human Rights First had seemed to endorse it on Twitter and wondered if HRF really meant to embrace CCR's claim that Muslims cannot get a fair trial in American courts. I was gratified to receive the following note from Gabor Rona, HRF's International Legal Director, on the question:

You’ve asked if Human Rights First believes it’s possible for Muslims to receive fair trials in the United States.  Of course we do. As you pointed out in your post, Human Rights First has pressed for civilian trials for terrorism suspects.  We continue to do so.  Our system of justice is based on fundamental notions of fairness and due process that are designed to respect rights and reach an accurate accounting of the facts.  A key feature of that system is the opportunity for screening of potential jurors by both judges and the lawyers for the prosecution and defense to eliminate potential bias.  As you know, this is particularly important in highly visible and politically charged cases. These are the kinds of safeguards that enable a liberal society to act fairly under stress.

In many ways, the Ghailani trial and verdict showcases the beauty of the US civilian judicial process and trial by jury. Check this out:

Ghailani Jurors Question Burden of Proof in Terrorism Trial


MANHATTAN (CN) - Jurors in Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani's terrorism trial on Tuesday asked Judge Lewis Kaplan about the scope of "conscious avoidance." The judge acknowledged prosecutors' concern that his answer could impose "a heavier burden of proof." Kaplan said he would answer the jury's question today, in a manner "consistent with law and common sense." Kaplan's charging instructions stated that Ghailani could be found guilty of conspiracy if the jury believed he knew, or consciously avoided knowing, that he was joining "an agreement to accomplish an alleged illegal purpose." Jurors asked whether this "alleged illegal purpose" had to relate specifically to each conspiracy count, or rather "illegal activity in general."

"They're paying attention," Kaplan responded, adding, "I have pondered this problem even before we charged."

When I saw the jury, after several days of deliberations, come back with a question to the judge about an extremely fine but critical point of applicable law, I said to myself, this is what makes me proud of our judicial system.

For all the “interpreting” of the Ghailani verdict, the facts are these: despite the fact that the prosecution was forced to forgo certain evidence that it knew would be deemed unreliable because it was gained through torture, Ghailani has been found guilty of a serious crime that will result in his incarceration for at least 20 years.  That verdict is the result of a process that is widely viewed in this country and around the world as fair and credible. And Ghailani will likely spend a good portion, if not the rest, of his life behind bars, like his four co-conspirators who were convicted without fanfare in federal court in 2001. Yet Liz Cheney calls this “embarrassing” and “dangerous” and Jack Goldsmith says the verdict is “disappointing.” Those reactions evince a lack of faith in the integrity of our justice system that I find depressing.