August 07, 2005
By Raffique Shah
IT took the Attorney General almost two years to have Lance Small extradited to the USA to face gun-running charges in that country. Once the many legal hurdles were finally overcome, the extradition was swift. In a flash, Small was escorted to Florida, and less than three months later he has been tried by jury, found guilty, and jailed for 12 years. Is that not a telling indictment against our entire legal system, starting from the laying of charges against serious felons, taking them through a convoluted if not archaic judicial system, and more often than not seeing the guilty walk free at the end of the day?
And yet we complain about our high crime rate, about how the police and the Government are doing nothing to arrest the situation. We dare point to New York under Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the way he and his policemen "cleaned up" the city, saying that is what we need to rid this country of crime. But there are two different systems at work here, and we need to recognise this. While the American system may bring swift justice, it is also a skewed system that delivers even swifter injustice.
Small, to use one example, was charged in the US for attempting to export a large arsenal of weapons to Trinidad and Tobago. He is deemed a "terrorist" because he is Muslim (or so he proclaims), he was involved in the 1990 attempted coup, and he was later caught with his hand in the armoury, in a manner of speaking. In contrast, there's one Luis Posada against whom there is an abundance of evidence that he planted a bomb on a Cubana aircraft back in 1977, blowing up the plane off Barbados, killing some 73 people. Posada, who did lots of "dirty work" for the CIA, has been offered protection by the very US government that's waging a "war against terrorism", in which Small is well, small fish. It's the classical case of Posada being the State Department's "sonofabitch" while Small is not.
What passes for justice in the USA under its new "anti-terrorism" laws is nothing short of "cowboy justice" in early American history. Worse, the US is guilty of maintaining a number of brutal concentration camps where many innocent people are being held incommunicado, where they are treated like animals. The Americans have broken the Geneva Convention on the conduct of war, and Guantanamo Bay will, in time to come, be exposed as another Auschwitz-minus-gas-chambers. They don't need the crude disposal system Hitler and his Nazis did, what with modern technology transforming interrogation and torture into a fine art.
Giuliani's "clean up" of New York was not a nice exercise. It was heavily racist, authoritarian, brooked no legal blockages, and most of all it had no social component. In other words, attorneys in the Big Apple could not mount layers of defence to insulate the guilty, and it was relatively easy to strike at the "criminals". Every Black person, more so young Blacks, was guilty unless he could prove his innocence. George Bush has taken that one step higher: if you are a Muslim and you don't control huge oil deposits, you are deemed a "terrorist" unless you can prove otherwise. Ask a number of local Muslims who have gone to the US since 9/11, but who may be too ashamed to admit to the "terror" they were subjected to at points of entry into that country.
In this country the Government seeks to reform the Judicial Review Act, to have the AG and/or DPP determine if some cases can be sent straight to the High Court rather than the drawn-out process of preliminary enquiries followed by trials and multiple appeals. What happens?
All attorneys have come out against it, saying it's too dangerous to place such powers in the hands of the individuals who hold these offices. What they do not say is any such move will deny attorneys wads of money! It will eliminate their hefty fees at the Magistrates' Courts' level, their often spurious filing for judicial review in the name of persons who cannot repay the State when they lose such matters, and the numerous appeals they pursue, mostly in the name of the almighty dollar, not of justice.
Yet, these very people complain about the "massive backlog" of cases that plague the courts. It's not that I am unmindful of the dangers of placing too much power in the hands of judicial, or worse, political appointees. But if a system is badly flawed. If it needs unclogging, then unclog the damn thing! We need to start putting trust in some individuals in the society not just in the politicians who have misled us for however many years. Don't we give them almost unfettered power when we vote them into office? Are they any more trustworthy than judicial officers? I rest my case, M'Lud.