A Problem of Evidence
Dahlia Lithwick has a good article comparing Texas’ recent raid on the FLDS Church Community with the initial situation in Guantanamo Bay in 2002.
More recent reporting has shown that the legal apparatus intended to protect abused children in Texas was strained to the breaking point by what turned out to be one of the largest child welfare cases in American history. Earlier today, attorneys for Child Protective Services confirmed that 15 of the 31 “child” mothers placed in foster care were actually adults. One is 27. A 14-year-old removed as a child mother apparently has no children. The state had raided the ranch after a 16-year-old girl called an abuse hotline saying she had been beaten and raped by her 50-year-old husband, but that girl has not been found. And interim custody placements made parental visits difficult, if not impossible. Seized children were not even permitted to hear sect prophet Warren Jeffs’ name. The original custody proceedings had been hasty, chaotic, and confused. And estimated court costs were being projected at $2.25 million (before lawyers’ fees).
In other words, what was intended as a noble effort suddenly got mired down in tricky factual disputes, cultural and religious clashes, and the practical necessity of warehousing hundreds of human beings for an indefinite period of time. If this sounds a whole lot like the Bush administration’s fruitless, costly, and ultimately cruel exercises in mass justice at Guantanamo Bay, that’s because the parallels are hard to miss. In both cases, government actors hurled themselves at a problem with the best of intentions. The prospect of averting just one more terror attack, or protecting just one more molested child, has a way of making all those technical legal details seem trivial. But both cases have been plagued by glaring errors of fact and identification: Names and ages and associations were all jumbled up, hearsay and double hearsay piled up in place of real evidence. At the time, it probably seemed like all the who’s and where’s could eventually be sorted out later. But there were real costs to surging forward ahead of the legal niceties.
I’d urge you to read the whole thing. I myself find the FLDS church to be a rather odious institution, and I’ve no doubt that there are some real bad guys being detained in Guantanamo Bay.
The problem is that by ignoring established policies and not doing a thorough investigation, in both cases there are large numbers of people suffering who aren’t guilty of any crime, which is bad enough and something that our judicial system is supposed to have evolved to avoid (sadly, it’s still not that great at it).
Worse still, as a consequnce of bungled investigations and bad procedures, you also end up with the legal instiutions in both cases being comprimised in terms of their legitimacy, the upshot of which means that the guilty go unpunished. As Lithwick concludes:
A long history of eliding detailed legal rules and procedures is the reason we’ve yet to see a single trial end in a conviction at Guantanamo Bay. Let’s hope it will not now prove the reason we don’t see a single conviction at the Yearning for Zion Ranch.
This is why the judicial process is so important. We ignore that process at our own peril.