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Wednesday, December 24, 2003

The Malvo verdict

Despite the initial leanings of some of them, the twelve members of the Virginia jury that convicted 18-year-old sniper Lee Boyd Malvo of capital murder ultimately voted against imposing the death penalty.  Predictably, prosecutors and family members of his victims have expressed their disappointment.  Although I haven't seen any polls, I suspect that a substantial portion of the public, probably a fair-sized majority, may also disapprove of the jury's decision and believe that his crime warranted the death penalty — and indeed, on the basis of what I know, that would be my personal opinion as well. 

Like me, however, disapproving members of the public can, at best, have followed the trial from a remote distance, filtered through press accounts.  We have not been privy to all the evidence; we have not seen what the jury saw or heard what it heard; and most importantly, we have not sworn the oath that jury swore nor participated in the deliberations its members conducted in the fulfilling of that oath.  We should therefore be loathe to second-guess its decision.

From what I know through press reports, I have no reason to doubt that the prosecutors who attempted to persuade this jury to sentence Malvo to death — for a crime committed while he was still technically a juvenile — were capable and skilled professionals who did their jobs competently.  I have no reason to doubt that through their efforts, the State of Virginia got a fair trial.  Nor do I have any particular reason to suspect that there was a gross imbalance in the quality and capabilities of the prosecution and defense teams that could have resulted in a skewed process.

If you believe in the capital punishment system as it currently exists in America, you must rely on juries to serve as the collective conscience of our community.  If, in general, you trust juries to wield the awesome power to condemn someone to death, then you must likewise, in general, respect their prerogative to spare someone from that punishment.  I know of nothing to take this case out of that general proposition; my own (necessarily less than fully informed) opinion as to whether the death penalty would or would not have been appropriate isn't enough to do so.

Malvo was being tried for only one of the many murders he committed.  Legally, prosecutors could try him again and again on each of the other crimes, and indeed do so in several different states in addition to Virginia; eventually, some prosecution team somewhere might well get a different result in the sentencing phase. 

That prosecutors could do this, however, does not mean that they should do so, even if doing so would please the members of the public who think that both Malvo and his co-conspirator John Allen Muhammad should be executed for what they did.  Although I disagree with the jury's decision, I nonetheless believe that all of the relevant prosecutorial authorities ought to respect it rather than trying to supercede it with a new prosecution.

Unfortunately, however, I frankly doubt that all of the relevant prosecutors will be able to withstand the public pressure.  Indeed, authorities in Alabama are already making noises about trying Malvo there:

[Montgomery Police Chief Jim] Wilson said the primary reason to try Malvo in Alabama is the strength of the case against him in Montgomery, including witnesses who saw him at the scene of the shootings.

This misses the point by a substantial margin.  The Virginia jury didn't fail to convict Malvo of capital murder, so witnesses who saw Malvo at the scene of the Alabama shootings wouldn't add anything substantial or meaningful to what the Virginia jury heard.  The crimes in both states — sniper murders of essentially random victims — were basically the same, and I'm unaware of any reason why the general evidence of aggravating and mitigating circumstances that would be presented in an Alabama trial would be any different than that which the Virginia jury has already heard.

A zealous prosecutor would probably answer my qualms by saying, "He shoulda thought of that [i.e., the risk of multiple prosecutions with possibly inconsistent results] before he committed so many different murders in so many different states."  And that is indeed the correct and wholly sufficient answer to the legal question of "Can we try him again?"  I submit, however, that unless someone can identify some fundamental flaw that would lead us to disrespect the Virginia jury's verdict, other prosecutors still ought to respect it.

Posted by Beldar at 01:47 PM in Current Affairs, Law (2006 & earlier) | Permalink

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Walking softly with the big stick

According to the NYT,

Libya's surprise declaration giving up its nuclear, biological and chemical weapons was the culmination of a week of intense negotiations that followed months of secret diplomacy, including a series of late-night meetings in Tripoli between the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, and experts from the C.I.A., and clandestine visits to at least 10 sites in Libya by British and American weapons experts, officials in London and Washington said Saturday.

One assumes that this isn't quite yet a done deal, but it looks pretty promising.  And it will bring to three the number of official state sponsors of terrorism that Dubya & Co. have transformed since 9/11.  What's remarkable about the Libyan episode —

  • It's been done, again, with our staunch allies the Brits, God bless 'em.

  • It's been done with absolute leak-free secrecy — impossible to imagine in many prior administrations of both parties.

  • It's been done without the meddling hypocrisy of the United Nations.

  • Finally, it's been done deftly and without the use of force — something that was only possible because Dubya & Co. have both the demonstrated capacity and will to use force.  Qaddafi may be crazy, or maybe he isn't; but he isn't stupid, and about now he's got to be having vivid nightmares about being on worldwide television with an American military doctor probing his mouth with a tongue depressor and a flashlight.

This is a really promising trend.


Update (Sun Dec 21 @ 12:45am):   Sunday's WaPo story on this topic makes it clear that the timing of Libya's initiation of negotiations coincided almost exactly with the beginning of the Iraq War:

British officials are usually tight-lipped about their work behind closed doors. But their pride in this achievement was apparent in their willingness to disclose key details of the nine-month effort that resulted in the deal, which was announced in a carefully choreographed sequence of statements Friday evening by Libyan Foreign Minister Abdel-Rahman Shalqam in Tripoli, Prime Minister Tony Blair in London and President Bush in Washington.

According to the British account, [Libyan intelligence chief Musa] Kusa, who is one of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi's most trusted aides, approached MI6 officials in March to say his government wanted to initiate talks with Britain and the United States about its weapons of mass destruction program....

The Libyans' explanation of their motivation doesn't mention their knowledge of Saddam's fate, but gives another very sound reason for their actions:

Shalqam told al-Jazeera television that Libya had acted because its weapons program did not benefit its people. "We want to have ties with America and Britain because this is in the interest of our people," he said.

Bingo!  It's good to be friends with the world's only superpower and its chums.  It's bad not to.

Posted by Beldar at 05:25 PM in Current Affairs, Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink

Compressed stupidity

From an AP story:

Ivo Daalder, a former senior official at the National Security Council during the Clinton administration and a foreign-policy adviser to Dean, said too much is being made of Saddam's capture. ''Everybody knew we were going to get Saddam at some point. We had 135,000 soldiers looking for him,'' Daalder said.

Still, Daalder said, the capture gives Bush ''a rare second chance'' to end the occupation, bring in international forces and turn the government over to Iraqis.

Yes, just like "everybody knew" that the millions of Allied forces in occupied Germany were going to find Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichman after World War II — except for the fact that he escaped to South America and successfully hid out until the Israelis tracked him down in 1960.

As for the rest:   which do you want, Mr. Daalder, to "end the occupation" or to "bring in international forces"?  The first would be to cut and run — declare defeat and go home.  As for the second, thanks again for insulting our British, Polish, Spanish, Italian, and other allies; seems that in the minds of anti-Bush Democrats, a force can only be "international" if it includes the French.  And we are turning the government over to Iraqis, but in a systematic and measured way — in fact, a bit too fast for your former employer's spouse, Sen. Clinton, who wants more troops and a longer timetable.

What a moron.  No doubt this guy has a place waiting for him in the Dean Administration.

Posted by Beldar at 05:12 PM in Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

A reply to Will Baude re John Kerry & the F-word

In a post entitled "What's in an F-word," the always eloquent Will Baude of Crescat Sententia asks, "Am I the only person who actually admires Senator Kerry for using the 'F-word' in his Rolling Stone interview?" and comes to this conclusion:

Sure, Kerry's use of the f-word was probably calculated politics. What else is new? Ironically enough, I think that occasional uses of strong language display a bit of class.

But Will:   Except for once, in an update, and even for purposes of a quotation, you avoid using the word yourself in your post (as I have here as well).  Have you asked yourself why?

It probably wasn't because you think many of your readers "haven't heard the word before."  Rather, I suspect it's simply because you recognize that it's a crude word, and that using it would fall below a standard of civility you prefer to maintain for your blog.

I agree with you that Kerry was engaging in "calculated politics" — indeed, his use of the word rings false even from the printed page — but it was a miscalculation that shows just how aloof and out of touch the famously haughty, French-looking millionaire Democrat (who by the way served in Vietnam) actually is. 

Specifically, Kerry's use of the word in an on-the-record interview shows a lack of sensitivity to, and a lack of understanding of, most Americans.  Most of us — even if we use the word ourselves as an expletive when we hit our thumbs with hammers or in very casual private jokes and conversations with intimates — are capable of and insist upon recognizing different standards for different times, places, and contexts.  And simply put, most of us prefer our "national leaders" to maintain a certain standard of civility in what they say for public consumption, just as we hold ourselves to higher standards of decency when we're speaking or, especially, writing publicly and non-anonymously.

Thus, I no more applaud or condone Kerry's usage than I would applaud or condone Dubya if, in an act of public speech, he called Hillary Clinton a "c__t."  That would be unpardonably crude — the kind of conduct up with which Barbara Bush never would put, and not coincidentally the kind of conduct into which Dubya would never accidentally slip, much less something he'd deliberately undertake.  And yet I'm entirely untroubled, and in fact still amused, that in what was intended to be a private aside to Dick Cheney in front of a microphone that was supposed to be off, Dubya called Adam Clymer a "major-league a__hole."

Posted by Beldar at 08:30 AM in Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink

Monday, December 08, 2003

A-bombs, politics, movie stars & wars

I've just finished reading Richard Rhodes' The Making of the Atomic Bomb, a kind gift from a thoughtful colleague.  Its 788 pages tell the story of the Manhattan Project exhaustively but adeptly for the most part.  It's lively, the science is tough but followable for a dedicated layman, and it's easy to see why this book won a Pulitzer, National Book Award, and other recognition when it came out in 1986.  Its politics hold up fairly well despite a rather significant unexpected event — the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union — since its publication.  And frankly the description of the efforts that were required for the first atomic bombs are almost comforting to read today — at least until one remembers that North Korea and Pakistan, among other countries, have managed to make the necessary effort.

I think the best of the book's many excellent quotes comes from a 1954 interview with physicist Edward Teller, who died this past September 9th at age 95: 

Scientists naturally have a right and a duty to have opinions.  But their science gives them no special insight into public affairs.  There is a time for scientists and movie stars and people who have flown the Atlantic to restrain their opinions lest they be taken more seriously than they should be.

Barbra, are you listening, babe?  Sean Penn?  Here's a hint:   if a movie star can't identify who the "flown the Atlantic" allusion in Teller's quote is a reference to and explain why it was included in his remark, then said movie star's present conclusions about any subject requiring a vague knowledge of history are ipso facto worthless. 

One jarring mistake almost made me lose faith in the author mid-book, however, and it's appropriate to note on this, the 62nd anniversary of Franklin D. Roosevelt's address to Congress after Japan's sneak attack on Pearl Harbor:

... The [Japanese attack on December 7th] accounted for eight battleships, three light cruisers, three destroyers and four other ships sunk, capsized or damaged and 292 aircraft damaged or wrecked, including 117 bombers.  And 2,403 Americans, military and civilian, killed, 1,178 wounded, in unprovoked assaults that lasted only minutes.  The following afternoon, Franklin Roosevelt, addressing Congress in joint session, requested and won a declaration of war against not only Japan but German and Italy as well.

(P. 392, italics by BeldarBlog.) 

DUH.  That's just dead wrong.  Anyone with even a moderate knowledge of 20th Century world or American history would know that it was Germany and Italy who first declared war on the US on December 11, 1941.  We promptly reciprocated, but in the first instance this was a bizarre, paranoid, and colossally stupid decision by Hitler, slavishly copied by Mussolini, that neither of them was obligated to make by the terms of the September 1940 tri-partite pact they had with Japan.   (Article III of that pact only obligated each member to help defend another if that member was attacked, and did not oblige them to intervene in favor of a member like Japan who was not itself an attacker; this was no mere formality, either, as evidenced by the pointed Japanese decision not to declare war on its old enemy the Soviet Union when Germany attacked the Soviets in the summer of 1941.) 

Certainly through his support of Britain with lend-lease destroyers and aggressive Atlantic convoying by the US Navy, FDR had already moved America away from absolute neutrality toward Germany, and indeed, his national radio address on December 9, 1941, shows signs of intentional conflation of the declared war against Japan with the not-yet-declared war with Germany.  But by declaring war against America, Hitler took FDR off of a sizeable political hook, directly enabling the "Europe First" strategy that otherwise would have faced rocky political roads with an American populace intent on gaining revenge in the Pacific.  How could the author of this Pulitzer Prize winning book not know these facts?

Posted by Beldar at 09:44 PM in Current Affairs, Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink

Kevin's bare teeth

Today, after three years of wearing braces, my oldest son Kevin's teeth are again visible:

Kevin without braces


Posted by Beldar at 01:24 PM in Family | Permalink