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Conrad Black


You Call This Justice? How America Became a Prosecutocracy

Posted: 07/18/2013 5:34 pm

The saga of Stephen Nodine has taken a new turn with the unctuous statement of the Republican Party chairman in Alabama that he would never approve a "felon" as a candidate, in this case, for Congress. Those who follow the publicized instances in the torrent of injustices that thunders through American criminal courts on the conveyer-belt to the bloated and corrupt prison system that is the soul and essence of the contemporary U.S. justice system, will recall the Nodine case. It possesses an unusual singularity of official irregularities from its inception to the present. Nodine, the former Mobile County Commissioner was charged with murder after the death of his frequent and intimate companion, Angel Downs, from a gunshot wound in her driveway in 2010. Nodine was a coming figure in the Republican Party in Alabama, and professed to have been concerned about his girlfriend's mental state as he drove away from her home following an argument.

The police at first concluded that it was a suicide case, as did the examining doctor from the coroner's office. The gun was in the hand of the deceased and the bullet had entered cleanly and parallel to the ground into her brain, with no signs of struggle, and the doctor who performed the autopsy said she was waiting to be shot, which is the standard condition of the corpses of such suicides, and that all the evidence was consistent with that finding. The district attorney, Judy Newcomb, brought the case straight to the grand jury without an arrest and proceeded in almost unprecedented haste, to coincide with a tight re-election campaign. (She was not re-elected.) There are notes of a meeting with the doctor who performed the autopsy in which he was placed under intense pressure by the district attorney and her entourage to change his finding from probable suicide to homicide, which he refused to do.

The ensuing trial failed to convict Nodine, though it ran him out of money and threw him on the mercies of the threadbare legal aid system, and the investigation prior to trial did turn up evidence of his being a drug user and owner of an unauthorized firearm in a manner prohibited to public officials. As a consolation prize for their failure to convict him of murder, the prosecutors obtained a sentence against him of 15 months on those and related charges to which he pleaded in the usual coercive manner of the American plea bargain, (for which prosecutors would be disbarred in any other civilized country). They threatened him with an alternative charge: assistance to, or negligent failure to discourage, a suicide.

Nodine now says that he is paying for ethical and character failings but remains strenuous in his professions of innocence on the main charge. Illustrative of his determination to rebuild his life, and of the robustness of his denial of any role in Ms. Downs' death, he threw his hat in the ring for the Republican nomination to fill a vacancy in the House of Representatives when an incumbent retired to take a position in the state university at Tuscaloosa. At this point, the state party chairman unctuously announced that the party would not give its imprimatur to a candidate who had been convicted of a crime.

Stephen Nodine philosophically stated that in the current climate and practice, Americans should not go to courts for justice but to the social media. Unfortunately, he has cancelled a taping with the self-important television medical advisor Dr. Phil, who periodically inflicts on his inexplicably large number of viewers the incandescent falsehood that the United States has the best justice system in the world. The American prosecutocracy terrorizes the entire country while most of the media cheer it on. American prosecutors win 99.5 per cent of their cases, 97 per cent without a trial, unheard of success levels by the standards of other advanced countries, and the U.S. has six to 12 times as many incarcerated people per capita as the closest comparable democratic and prosperous societies: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, and Japan. The United States has five per cent of the world's people, 25 percent of its incarcerated people, and 50 per cent of its trained lawyers, who consume 10 per cent of its GDP. This is not what Madison and Hamilton and Jay and other authors of the Constitution meant by a society of laws, and they would be appalled at the extent to which the Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendment guaranties of due process -- of the grand jury as an insurance against capricious prosecution, of the illegality of seizure of property without compensation, and of an impartial jury, prompt justice, access to counsel and reasonable bail -- have been put to the shredder. There is no presumption of innocence; the judges are usually ex-prosecutors and continue unofficially in that role, there is a huge procedural advantage for the government, which is, unlike in any other serious jurisdiction, the last to speak to the jury.

So the Alabama Republican Party chairman's sanctimony is misplaced, because a large number of people who are convicted are not guilty. There are 48 million Americans with a criminal record in the U.S, including the immediate former president of the United States (and leader of the Republican Party). Even allowing for the fact that probably a third of these convictions are far-off and unstigmatizing offenses such as George W. Bush's DUI, that means that about one fifth of the adult male population are designated felons. This is impossible, as a matter of justice. One fifth of male adult Americans are not criminals and everyone knows it. The Republican leadership, and the Alabama state chairman must be on the fringe of that group, should get off the law and order bandwagon which their party started and rode, but which is now crowded with the entire political class from left to right, and demand rights for the 48 million outcasts who have been ground to powder by the justice system. Is this self-righteous idiot of an Alabama Republican chairman the real face of the party of Lincoln? And those tens of millions who have been wronged by the system, and almost all of them have, because even the guilty are grossly over-sentenced, should assert the traditional American right to redress, like African-Americans, women, gays, and all ethnic groups as their numbers enabled them, have done.

The Stephen Nodine case is a disgrace from the beginning to the present, and the Republican Party should not be legitimizing his oppression, much less pandering to the ignorant with sanctimonious claptrap about the moral turpitude of the persecuted.


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  • Because Most Americans Are Unenthusiastic About It

    Only 7 percent of Americans think the United States is <a href="http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/lifestyle/general_lifestyle/november_2012/7_think_u_s_is_winning_war_on_drugs">winning the war on drugs</a>, and few Americans are interested in throwing down more money to try to win, according to a Rasmussen Reports poll released in 2012.

  • Because The U.S. Won't Control The Flow Of Guns Into Latin America

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/01/mexico-guns-arturo-sarukhan-us-weapons-mexico-violence-gun-rights_n_1563250.html">Mexican authorities seized almost 70,000 weapons of U.S. origin</a> from 2007 to 2011. In 2004, the U.S. Congress declined to renew a 10-year ban on the sale of assault weapons. They quickly became the guns of choice for Mexican drug cartels. Some 60,000 people have died in Mexico since President Felipe Calderón launched a military assault on the cartels in 2006.

  • Because The United States Leads The Hemisphere In Drug Consumption

    Americans have the <a href="http://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/files/serve/?File_id=81b53476-64a3-4088-9bae-254a84b95ddb">highest rate of illegal drug consumption in the world</a>, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

  • Because The U.S. Ignores Latin American Calls For A Rethinking Of Drug Policy

    Several current and former Latin American presidents, like Fernando Henrique Cardoso, have <a href="http://www.globalcommissionondrugs.org/">urged the United States to rethink its failed war on drugs</a>, to no avail.

  • Because Of The Fast And Furious Scandal

    In an attempt to track guns as they moved across the U.S.-Mexico border, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms <a href="http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/atf-fast-furious-sg,0,3828090.storygallery">allowed smugglers to purchase weapons</a>. The ATF lost track of the guns and they wound up in the hands of drug cartels -- even as <a href="http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2012/09/11/atf-fast-and-furious-guns-appear-in-colombia/">far south as Colombia</a>.

  • Because American Politicians Refuse To Candidly Lead A Debate On Reforming Our Laws

    Though the subject of marijuana legalization regularly ranks among the most popular at the digital town halls President Obama takes part in, he <a href="http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2011/07/06/askobama-twitter-town-hall-ignores-flood-of-marijuana-legalization-questions/">declines to address the issue</a> or give it a <a href="http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/technology/2009/03/obama-addresses.html">thoughtful answer</a>. Incidentally, a younger Obama <a href="http://www.wusa9.com/news/article/229756/82/We-Need-To-Decriminalize-Our-Marijuana-Laws----Barack-Obama">supported marijuana decriminalization and a rethinking of the drug war</a>.

  • Because The U.S. Tortures Detainees In Cuba

    Almost 800 prisoners accused of terrorism have have been held at the <a href="http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/01/06/guantanamo-ten-years">U.S. military prison of Guantánamo</a>, Cuba, where they are detained indefinitely without facing trial. The United States has drawn international criticism from human rights defenders for subjecting the detainees there to torture and other cruel treatment. The Cuban government opposes hosting the U.S. naval base on its soil.

  • Because The U.S. Has The World's Largest Prison Population

    The United States has <a href="http://www.prb.org/Articles/2012/us-incarceration.aspx">the world's largest prison population</a> by far -- largely fed by the war on drugs -- at 500 per 100,000 people.

  • Because The U.S. Jails Undocumented Immigrants Guilty Of Civil Violations

    Because the United States <a href="http://www.detentionwatchnetwork.org/ExposeAndClose">imprisons roughly 400,000 immigrants</a> each year on civil violations.

  • Because The Border Patrol Kills Kids Who Throw Rocks

    The U.S. Border Patrol has come under fire for <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/26/border-patrol-killing-un_n_2018731.html">killing minors who were throwing rocks</a>.

  • Because The U.S. Recognized An Illegal Government In Venezuela

    When opponents of leftwing Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez briefly ousted him in 2002, the United States not only failed to condemn the coup, it <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/16/world/bush-officials-met-with-venezuelans-who-ousted-leader.html">praised the coup leaders</a>.

  • Because U.S. Extradition Undermines Justice In Colombia

    When Colombia demobilized the largest rightwing paramilitary organization in 2006, if offered lenient sentences to those who would offer details on the atrocities the AUC committed. But rather than facing justice in their home country, <a href="http://www.propublica.org/article/colombian-paramilitaries-extradited-to-u.s.-where-cases-are-sealed">Colombia has extradited several paramilitary leaders to the United States</a> to face drug trafficking charges -- marking it harder for people like Bela Henríquez to find out the details surrounding the murders of their loved ones. "More than anger, I feel powerless," Henriquez, whose father, Julio, was kidnapped and killed on the orders of one defendant, told ProPublica. "We don't know what they are negotiating, what conditions they are living under. What guarantee of justice do we have?"

  • Because The U.S. Helped Create Today's Cartels

    The U.S funded the Guatemalan military during the 1960s and 1970s anti-insurgency war, despite awareness of widespread human rights violations. Among the recipients of U.S military funding and training were the Kaibiles, a special force unit responsible for several massacres. Former <a href="http://ghrc-usa.org/Publications/factsheet_kaibiles.pdf" target="_hplink">Kaibiles have joined the ranks of the Zetas drug cartel</a>.

  • Because The U.S. Backed An Argentine Military Dictatorship That Killed 30,000 People

    The rightwing military dictatorship that took over Argentina in 1976 "disappeared" some 30,000 people, according to estimates by several human rights organizations. They subjected countless others to sadistic forms of torture and stole dozens of babies from mothers they jailed and murdered. The military junta carried out the so-called "Dirty War" with the <a href="http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB104/index.htm">full knowledge and support of the Nixon administration</a>.

  • Because The U.S. Helped Topple The Democratically Elected Government Of Salvador Allende

    When it became clear that socialist Salvador Allende would likely win the presidency in Chile, U.S. President Richard Nixon told the CIA to "make the economy scream" in order to "prevent Allende from coming to power or to unseat him," <a href="http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB8/nsaebb8i.htm">according to the National Security Archive</a>. Augusto Pinochet overthrew Allende in a bloody coup on Sept. 11, 1973, torturing and disappearing thousands of his political rivals with the backing of the U.S. government.

  • Because the U.S. Backed A Military Coup In Brazil In 1964

    The Brazilian military overthrew the democratically elected government of João Goulart in 1964, with the <a href="http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB118/index.htm">enthusiastic support of President Lyndon Johnson</a>, ushering in two decades of repressive government.

  • Because The U.S. Funded A Terrorist Group In Nicaragua

    The Reagan administration funded the Contra rebels against the Marxist Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Regarded by many as terrorists, <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/1985-03-08/news/mn-32283_1_contras">the Contras murdered, tortured and raped civilians</a>. When human rights organizations reported on the crimes, the Reagan administration accused them of working on behalf of the Sandinistas.

  • Because The U.S. Helped Finance Atrocities In Colombia

    Through Plan Colombia, the U.S. has pumped over $6 billion into Colombia's military and intelligence service since 2002. The intelligence service has been disbanded for <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/national-security/us-aid-implicated-in-abuses-of-power-in-colombia/2011/06/21/gIQABrZpSJ_story.html">spying on the Supreme Court and carrying out smear campaigns</a> against the justices, as well as journalists, members of Congress and human rights activists. The military faces numerous allegations of human rights abuse, including the practice of killing non-combatants from poor neighborhoods and dressing them up as guerrillas to inflate enemy casualty statistics.

  • Because The U.S. Maintains A Trade Embargo Against Cuba Despite Opposition From The Entire World

    For 21 years, the <a href="http://news.yahoo.com/u-n-urges-end-u-cuba-embargo-21st-192516276.html">U.N. has condemned the U.S. embargo against Cuba</a> and for 21 years the United States has ignored it. Some 188 nations voted against the embargo this year, with only the U.S. itself, Israel, Palau opposing.

  • Because The U.S. Engineered A Coup Against The Democratically Elected Government Of Guatemala In 1954

    At the behest of United Fruit Company, a U.S. corporation with extensive holdings in Central America, the CIA helped engineer the overthrow of the Guatemalan government in 1954, ushering in decades of civil war that resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives.

  • Because The U.S. Backed The Salvadoran Military As It Committed Atrocities In The 1980s

    El Salvador's military <a href="http://www.pbs.org/itvs/enemiesofwar/elsalvador2.html">committed atrocities throughout the 1980s with U.S. funding</a>.

  • Because The U.S. Invaded Haiti and Occupied It For Almost 20 Years

    Woodrow Wilson ordered the Marines to <a href="http://history.state.gov/milestones/1914-1920/Haiti">invade and occupy Haiti in 1915</a> after the assassination of the Haitian president. The troops didn't leave until 1934.

  • Because The U.S. Invaded Haiti Again In 1994

    One invasion wasn't good enough. The U.S. <a href="http://wws.princeton.edu/research/cases/haiti.pdf">military returned in 1994</a>.

  • Because The U.S. Trained Military Leaders Who Committed Atrocities In Latin America

    The School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, Georgia, trained soldiers and generals responsible for massacres and torture of tens of thousands of Latin Americans, <a href="http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/insidestoryamericas/2012/09/201292081054585410.html">according to Al Jazeera</a>.

  • Because The U.S. Backed Dictator Rafael Trujillo

    Rafael Trujillo Sr. (Photo by Hank Walker//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

  • Because The U.S. Invaded Cuba And Undermined The Island's Independence

    The so-called "Spanish-American War" began in 1868 with the first of a series of three wars for Cuban independence. In 1898, the U.S. got involved, invading Cuba and occupying the island after forcing Spain to give it. The United States then forced Cuba to <a href="http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=55">accept the odious Platt Amendent to its Constitution</a>, which allowed the United States to intervene in the country militarily and established the U.S. military base at Guantánamo.

  • Because The U.S. Colonized Puerto Rico

    As long as you're invading Cuba, <a href="http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/puerto-rico-invaded">why not take Puerto Rico</a> as well? The United States invaded in 1898 and the island remains a U.S. territory today.