Monday, April 10, 2017

Shadows of Doubt

[Please excuse my absence last week...a death in the family occurred and we had to address that.]

In court cases, jurors are instructed to convict the defendant if they are convinced "beyond a shadow of doubt" of their guilt.  In the film (made from a play) 12 Angry Men, Henry Fonda's character has a shadow of a doubt and faces the wrath of the other eleven jurors, but convinces them through patience and logic to pass a verdict of "not guilty" on the young defendant being tried for murder.

Still from 12 Angry Men
Well, the jury is out on tRump's latest romp with his toys the other night when he ordered a missile attack on a Syrian military base in reaction to the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons.  He said it was carried out both in the interest of national security and in defense of international treaties that ban using the chemical weapons that caused the horrible deaths of "beautiful babies"--the same one he refuses to let enter the country.

The Syrian government's use of chemical weapons, of course, is unconscionable and grossly immoral, but was tRump's reaction justified?

US politicians on both sides of the proverbial aisle seemed to trip over themselves to endorse the strike, including Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who said the attack "in Syria appears to be a proportional response to the [Assad] regime’s use of chemical weapons,”  but added this caution: “If the President intends to escalate the U.S. military’s involvement in Syria, he must come to Congress for an Authorization for Use of Military Force, which is tailored to meet the threat and prevent another open-ended war in the Middle East.”  Senate Majority leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) responded unequivocally, “I think the president had the authority to do what he he did. And I’m glad he did it.”  Senator John McCain (R-AZ) also supported the action.  Laura Barron Lopez and Michael McAuliff, with the Huffington Post, reported that while legislators seem to approve of the action, they cannot seem to articulate the legal grounds for it.  Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) said he will  "let the international lawyers look at the details of how they view it,” while Senator Jon Testor (D-MT) was a bit more hesitant, “It can be argued on both sides...I think we need an [Authorization for the Use of Military Force] that actually addresses this issue. We don’t have one right now.”

This question of whether tRump's action was actually legal is also being contested in legal circles.  Harold Koh, a former State Department legal adviser and current Yale University law professor, seems to feel it was legally grounded, arguing that one key function of international law is to protect human rights, which were clearly violated in Assad's chemical attack.  Additionally, the attack does not imply that we are at war with Syria, “If this is a one-and-done, Congress isn’t going to challenge it.”  Others have argued that tRump's claim that the attack was carried out in the interest of national security rests on such a vague notion of the concept that it may be possible to justify almost any action taken for that stated reason as legal and constitutional.  Alex Emmons, with The Intercept, reported that the legal community is divided about the legality of the attack, with Constitutional, human rights, and international lawyers saying the attack had no legal basis.  Jack Goldsmith at the Harvard Law School claimed the attack “exceeds all prior precedents under domestic and international law.”  Louis Fisher with the Constitution Project concurred, “President Trump has no constitutional authority to unilaterally commit the nation to war against Syria.”  Hina Shamsi with the ACLU tweeted that the strike had “no legit[imate] domestic or international law basis.”  And Fionnuala Ni Aolain from the University of Minnesota Law School observed that the attack was “a slide into self-justificatory unilateralism by the United States [that] should not be celebrated nor validated.”

In looking at this incident, what emerges is several shadows of doubt surrounding this attack and tRump's actions have done nothing to ameliorate concerns about the right wing's self-stylized image of Amerika as "legal enforcer," which comes off as brash vigilantism to many others in the rest of the world.

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay, public domain

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