Does Wolf Blitzer Think It's Time to Call Out the Lynch Mob?

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CommonDreams.org

Does Wolf Blitzer Think It's Time to Call Out the Lynch Mob?

It's easy to praise constitutional rights in the abstract, to declare that you are a believer in free speech, the right to trial, the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments when you're speaking only in general terms. The real test comes when you're asked to deal with difficult specific cases.

Do you still believe in free speech if it means Nazis have the right to march through a community where Jewish Holocaust survivors live? Do you support the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments if it forbids torture of suspected terrorists? Do you believe everyone has the right to trial, even someone charged with a horrible, terrifying crime?

Real defenders of freedom stand up for these principles even-especially-when it is unpopular to do so. Before the Constitution even existed, John Adams recognized the importance of the principle that everyone is entitled to a fair trial and a competent defense when he defended the British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre. That was a pretty dangerous position to take in Boston as the city stood on the brink of open revolution against the Crown, but Adams stood by his principles, and even succeeded in gaining acquittals for some of the accused.

I think it's safe to say that Wolf Blitzer is no John Adams-perhaps Blitzer is auditioning to fill the yawning void left by Lou Dobbs's departure from CNN. Blitzer played to the lowest common denominator when he proved how tough he can be by challenging the lawyer who will represent Major Hasan in the Fort Hood murder trial. Blitzer asked the lawyer to "explain to our viewers why you're doing this." The lawyer trotted out some tired idea about the importance of a fair trial, that this is one of the rights our troops fight and die to defend, but our valiant Wolf was not deterred from playing to the lynch mob, declaring that Hasan will surely get a much fairer hearing than the 13 people murdered at Fort Hood.

Good point, Wolf. Following his logic (and Bill Kristol's), why have a trial at all for Hasan? Why not do it the way they used to do in the good old days-just call out a lynch mob and be done with these legal niceties? Sure, lynch mobs sometimes got it wrong, but you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.

Wolf Blitzer is a dangerous fool who either doesn't understand why we have a Constitution or doesn't care to inform his viewers. The rule of law doesn't exist to protect the guilty person, it exists to protect the innocent person wrongly accused. In most cases, the justice system works well and criminals are indicted, convicted, and brought to justice. In any human system, however, there is error. The Death Penalty Information Center has a list of more than 100 people who were convicted, sentenced to death, and subsequently found to be innocent. Mistakes are made-intentionally or otherwise. The idea is that we want to protect people who are wrongly charged. The only way to do that is to make sure everyone is treated the same and afforded the right to a trial.
Our trial and appellate system, as enshrined in the 6th Amendment when it comes to criminal trials, is an attempt to correct error, to make sure that people who are wrongly charged have the chance to clear their name. Blitzer either doesn't understand that, doesn't believe in it, or perhaps thinks that exceptions should be made-when we really, really know someone is guilty, "formalities" need not be followed.

What happened at Fort Hood was terrifying, it was horrible, it is dislocating, and it is beyond disturbing. But it is not grounds for setting aside the Constitution. Unless everyone has constitutional rights, none of us is guaranteed that our own rights will be protected. When we say that Nazis have a right to free speech, that suspected terrorists have a right to be free from torture, that accused murderers have a right to a fair trial, it doesn't mean we are endorsing Nazis, terrorists, or murderers (or murderers who are also terrorists). It means that we recognize what the Constitution requires-as it says on the Supreme Court building, "equal justice under law."

Having a Constitution isn't easy, but it's something many of us think is worth the effort. As Congress said in 1963 "No persons should be more entitled to protection of their constitutional rights then the servicemen engaged in protecting the sovereignty of the United States." It's easy to repeat those words when we're thinking of brave, wrongly accused soldiers caught up in a Kafkaesque misunderstanding. The test of whether the Constitution means what it says is whether we can apply the principle of equal justice to those who appear repellent. I'm glad to answer "yes"-the Constitution must apply to everyone, without exception. That's the only way we can be sure that we, ourselves, will be protected.

Chris Edelson

Chris Edelson is an assistant professor in American University's School of Public Affairs, Department of Government, where he teaches classes on constitutional law. He's also a lawyer and has published writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Washington Lawyer, Common Dreams, firedoglake.com, and Metroland (Albany, NY).

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