L. Neil Smith's
Number 288, September 12, 2004

"We don't trust our own government"

Survey of the Bill of Rights: Article 5
by Ron Beatty

Exclusive to TLE

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Most people, when they think of the Fifth Amendment, think of the famous 'Miranda' warning, as shown on gazillions of TV shows, and don't know anything else about it. Actually, the Miranda warning is only partially about the Fifth Amendment, and was instituted as a check on police brutality which became rampant during the years of the Civil Rights movement. At that time, it was not uncommon for police officers to torture confessions out of suspects. Sometimes this was literal torture, such as beatings. Other times, it was things like leaving a suspect in a cell with no heat, running water, or perhaps in a cell with violent, dangerous persons, so that the suspect will confess solely in order to stop the pain, degradation, fear, or psychological annoyance.

The Fifth Amendment is basically designed to do just exactly that, to protect citizens from abuse at the hands of their own government. What it says, plainly and simply, is that you can't be held to answer for a crime unless there is enough evidence to convince a grand jury that you may be responsible for committing that crime, unless you are a member of the armed services in a time of war or emergencey. It says that if you are found innocent of a specific act (not crime, act), you cannot be tried again for that same act. It also says that you can not be forced to testify against yourself, and that the state can not take your life, your freedom, or your property for public use without paying fair market value for it.

Now, let's just take a look at some recent history. Rodney King, and the LA riots: the OJ trial, and the Patriot Act. I know, many of these are controversial, and not everyone will agree with what I have to say, but it is important to examine specific issues.

Rodney King: The four officers who beat Rodney King were acquitted by a state court. They were acquitted because evidence was presented that clearly showed that Rodney King's actions were consistent with an attempt to act aggressively against the officers, after he had already attempted to grab one officer's firearm. As a result, the riots erupted, leading to days of terror, millions of dollars in damages, and untold numbers of injuries, including the shameful episode where a truck driver was bashed in the head with a brick/block, and his attachers were found innocent of assault with a deadly weapon. (You'll notice that no attempt was made to retry these miscreants for their actions under federal statutes!) Faced with a public relations nightmare, and wanting to show that they were doing something, federal prosecutors brought charges against the four officers again, even though this is totally unconstitutional, since even though a different charge was used, the offense (act) was the same. Since a scapegoat was necessary from both a public relations and a political standpoint, a compliant judge not only allowed the trial to proceed, but refused to allow evidence that could have acquitted the officers to be presented.

OJ trial: Did OJ kill Nicole and Ron Goldman? I don't know, and really, my opinion on that particular subject doesn't matter at all. Once he was acquitted of the murders of those two individuals, that should have been the end of it. Instead, again because of a public relations nightmare, a trial was allowed to go forward, and a man who was acquitted of committing a heinous act was still required to make restitution for it. Again, this is totally unconstitutional, and should have been stopped immediately by the judge involved.

Patriot Act: Since the Patriot Act authorizes warrantless searches, the arrest and/or detention of persons without evidence of wrong-doing, and authorizes secret trials and tribunals, it is totally unconstitutional on several grounds, not just under the Fifth Amendment. However, let's just look at it from that standpoint. With no more than a vague accusation that a person might be a terrorist, connected with terrorists, might have done business with someone who did business with terrorists, or know someone who might be a terrorist, a person can be detained without bail, without access to an attorney, without being permitted to contact anyone, and for an indefinite period of time, with no recourse anywhere! No evidence is necessary, since the accusation does not go before a grand jury. In one particular case, a person accused of terrorism on the grounds that he planned to set off a 'dirty bomb' was held for over two years without legal representation, with no outside contact at all, and in a military prison, where it might be presumed that he would recieve little sympathy from either the guards or the other inmates. After more than two years of this, this person admits to planning to set off explosives in apartment buildings. Hmmm, what happened to the dirty bomb plot? Is it any wonder that a person might agree to plead guilty to something like this, after more than two years, not knowing what is happening, not being allowed an attorney, undergoing who knows what treatment at the hands of those in authority over him? Doesn't the background seem to indicate that something was used to force this man to agree to plea to this charge, which is so different from what he was accused of? And isn't force the same as compulsion, which is specifically prohibited under the Fifth Amendment?

On this same level, the atrocities at Abu Ghraib prison are especially heinous in that those service people are not only sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States, they should have been thoroughly trained in the appropriate actions under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Code of Conduct, especially Article VI, which reads:

I will never forget that I am an American fighting man, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free.
I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.

The second and third clauses of the first sentence especially should have told them not to commit those atrocities, no natter who ordered them.

Let's go back to to the Nuremburg trials of Nazi war criminals, in which it was established for all time that 'just following orders' is not a legitimate excuse for illegal actions. Perhaps not just the soldiers, but also the cops, federal agents, and politicians should also remember that. As well, they might want to remember that in Marbury v. Madison, the court ruled that 'all laws which are repugnant to the Constitution are null and void.'

Americans are notoriously slow to anger, and even slower to take action on that anger. But, at some point, the anger will build up and explode, especially if the illegal and unconstitutional actions of government persist to the point of being totally intolerable. It's happened before, it will happen again.

As always, I encourage each and every one of you to look up the facts and history presented here. Prove to yourselves that I am telling you the truth, at least as I see it. Never, ever take my unsupported word for anything, and even less so that of government or the media. Do the research, make the effort. Take responsibility for your own freedom.


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