Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Dear Readers,

In Ian McEwan's recently published novel "Saturday", the protagonist explores his feelings in this contemporary world, "Have his anxieties been making a fool of him? It's part of the new order, this narrowing of mental freedom, of his right to roam. Not so long ago his thoughts ranged more unpredictably, over a longer list of subjects. He suspects he's becoming a dupe, the willing, febrile consumer of news fodder, opinion, speculation and of all the crumbs the authorities let fall. He's a docile citizen, watching Leviathan grow stronger while he creeps under its shadow for protection." (Page 180)

Many predicts the current crisis in our world to last at least one hundred years, that is a hundred year war, far exceeding most of our contemporary world citizenry's life span, even most of the next generation descendants' lives will be near the end before the "war" ends or transmutes into something else, into more wars of the world of future.

Once Western civilization used to boast its steadfastness in one of the fundamental premises of its cherished judicial system, its unflinching preservation of the motto: Innocent until proven guilty. But the geopolitical world events, violence and wars are changing that ironclad paradigm into a more malleable acceptance of a view where certain groups of a society get excluded from the law of the nation. Constant bombardments of powerful media with its various means and deceptive politicians with power use all familiar and sometimes sweetened miasmas in slowly but surely shaping public consciousness. When The New York Times published the news of two teenage girls' apprehension by the FBI for their alleged involvement in terrorist plots, Fox and other news media grabbed it and played it simultaneously while the Pope was embalmed for a stately funeral.

Not a single evidence been presented publicly by the authority against these teenage girls except the fact that they are Muslim girls. Has it become a crime adopting any particular religion in America these days? Transparency used to be a word used and envisioned by the American founding fathers in judiciary process, where every evidences and counter evidences are barely placed on the table determining the guiltiness or innocence of an individual.

Perhaps the authority knows more but are not divulging their mysterious methods of getting information, since the less public knows about their tattered privacy, the merry it could be for the powerful with official uniforms and also the hackers in the dungeons to go about their regular chores in cracking codes and plucking needles from the straws. Surely questions may arise, how long democracy can survive the assaults to its core?


Guilty Until Proven Innocent

TThe post-9/11 world involves two competing nightmares. One imagines another terrorist attack that occurs because authorities fail to respond to signs of danger. The other is about innocent people who are arrested by mistake and held indefinitely because authorities are too frightened, or embarrassed, to admit their errors. We have to be equally vigilant against both.

Right now, two New York City girls, both 16, have been detained and accused of plotting to become suicide bombers. If there is a real reason to believe that charge, officials are obviously right to have acted. But so far, they have said little about the evidence against the girls, and the girls' friends and families have offered accounts that suggest the charges could be completely false.

At this point, it's impossible not to worry about a potential miscarriage of justice, given the number of previous incidents in which the government has rushed to make a terrorism arrest that turned out to be baseless.

Details of the cases against the two girls - one from Bangladesh and the other from Guinea, and both in the country illegally - are sketchy. According to reporting by Nina Bernstein in The Times, the parents of the Bangladeshi girl went to the police several weeks ago to file a complaint about their daughter's defying their authority. When the dispute was resolved, they tried to withdraw the complaint, but the police proceeded with an investigation.

The police and federal immigration officials searched her belongings and are reported to have found an essay on suicide. According to the family, the essay says suicide is against Islamic law. But detectives went on to question the girl about her political beliefs before arresting her. Even less is known about the investigation of the girl from Guinea. Teachers and students at the high school she attended expressed outrage at the arrest and at the idea that she could be plotting terrorism.

The government calls the girls an "imminent threat," and says it has "evidence that they plan to be suicide bombers." But it has not described the evidence, insisting that national security requires that much of it remain secret. Because the girls are here illegally, they have been put into a deportation system that affords them far fewer rights than ordinary criminal suspects have. There is no definite limit on how long they can be held.

No one wants to leap to conclusions about a government case in such an important area. But the record is not reassuring. Last year, the government wrongly jailed Brandon Mayfield, a lawyer who is a Muslim, for two weeks after the F.B.I. mistakenly matched his fingerprint to one found at the scene of the Madrid train bombing. After the Sept. 11 attacks, the Justice Department rounded up hundreds of Muslim men who were here illegally and detained them for months, often in deplorable conditions. The department's inspector general later found that the F.B.I. had made "little attempt to distinguish" those with terrorism ties from those without. Shortly after 9/11, federal authorities detained a Nepalese tourist for three months in a tiny cell after he inadvertently included an F.B.I. building in a videotape of the sights of New York for folks at home.

More information about the two girls will no doubt surface over time. If the evidence isn't there, the arrests are very disturbing. The government will have taken 16-year-olds from their families, branded them as would-be terrorists and put them into a frightening legal limbo for no good reason.