Opinion » Rhetoric & Reason

Lynch mob or rule of law?

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When Tomas De Torquemade initiated the Spanish Inquisition, he built the foundation for nearly three centuries of terror throughout Europe. Religious heretics (anyone accused of not being politically correct) suffered horrendous persecution, torture, and barbaric execution. The Inquisition rapidly expanded in scope to anyone accused of engaging in even the slightest deviation from established religious orthodoxy.

The first rule of the Inquisition was the accused was guilty until proven innocent. An accusation alone resulted in imprisonment with no contact with the outside world. The accused was denied information about the name or names of his/her accuser or any documents related to the case. Witnesses for the defense were limited to only orthodox Catholics; relatives of the accused out to the fourth generation were prohibited from testifying on their behalf. Even when testimony was sufficient to warrant exoneration, the accused would still be tortured to extract a confession. Those found guilty (or confessing guilt) were burned at the stake. On the morning of the execution, the condemned would be "prepared" for the stake, first by having their tongue forcibly encased in a metal clamp that was screwed down tight and then having the tip of their tongue burned until it sufficiently swelled to prevent the condemned from making any last statement to the mob gathered to watch their torment.

Totalitarian societies have used such techniques to seize and hold power for centuries and continue to do so today. The former Soviet Union used show trials and arbitrary executions as a matter of course against "enemies of the state" murdering millions of people. China still employs state terror, imprisoning millions for political offenses, as does North Korea, Cuba, and Iran to name only a few. Recent conflicts, such as the Bosnian civil war's death camps and bullet-riddled execution walls testify to the brutality humanity is capable of inflicting on each other.

Much of European/Western history over the last 500 years is a story of struggle against injustice and the establishment of individual rights under the rule of law. The most important of those rights is the presumption of innocence and the requirement for the accuser to prove their case, not the burden of the accused to prove their innocence. Fairness in judgement, allowing the accused access to all evidence used against them and the right to make a vigorous defense are the very foundations upon which the American Republic was established. The burden to prove guilt is always upon the accuser who must not only reach but surpass the legal bar of "proven beyond a reasonable doubt." This applies to all situations, not simply courts of law but also in administrative and civil actions, lest the rule of public passion via the "mob" destroy an innocent person.

Currently, the persecution of now Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his Senate confirmation hearings more closely represented the long-discredited proceedings of the Inquisition than established rule of law, evidence and presumption of innocence that elevated Western jurisprudence above all others.

Americans today are divided along ideological lines more than any other time since the Civil War. At risk is the type of nation we're becoming. Will we destroy our heritage on the altar of political expediency to please the mob or will we defend our heritage of fairness and equal justice under the law?

This is not about whether or not women should be believed when they report a sexual assault; their claims must be seriously investigated by qualified investigators who are charged with conducting professional, responsible investigations. Nobody should be tried by the press in the court of public opinion. Rather, the facts should drive the course of the investigation, not politics. This didn't happen in the Kavanaugh hearings, which were a national disgrace.

In the Kavanaugh hearings, we're told we must believe Dr. Ford's accusations against Judge Kavanaugh; we mustn't question her version of events, nor was it necessary for her recounting of events to be consistent and corroborated. If she made the accusation, according to the extreme left of American politics, Kavanaugh, being white, male and from an affluent background, must be considered guilty. To question Ford's account was to be misogynistic and an apologist for rape.

Dr. Ford's account was based upon a reconstructed or "recovered memory," built during her sessions with a psychotherapist. Field experts on witness testimony and especially "recovered memories" will tell you that memories are fungible things, easily influenced by outside factors, are often unreliable and must be corroborated by forensic evidence or other witnesses. None of this occurred nor was any evidence provided by the very inconsistent testimony of Dr. Ford. All of the "evidence" Ford provided actually supported Judge Kavanaugh's forceful denial of her account and his insistence of innocence of her charges.

Yet to the "mob," none of this mattered. Kavanaugh represented a threat to the agenda of the extreme left, therefore whatever it took to destroy Kavanaugh was acceptable, even outright lies, intimidation of public officials, and threats of violence.

Sen. Susan Collins said it best during her speech last Saturday, "We must always remember that when passions are most influential that fairness is most in jeopardy."

Americans today must decide what kind of country we're becoming, one where the accused are innocent until proven guilty, following rules of law and evidence, or a return to rule of the lynch mob where passion buries justice under an avalanche of hate. Δ

Al Fonzi is an Army lieutenant colonel of military intelligence who had a 35-year military career, serving in both the Vietnam and Iraq wars. Send comments through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com.

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