Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Free the Drug Users and Tax Resisters Too

Wednesday, August 26, 2009 Free the Drug Users and Tax Resisters Too by Jacob G. Hornberger If we’re going to let federal officials who have violated federal criminal statutes against torture off the hook, then why shouldn’t drug users and tax resisters be pardoned at the same time? After all, what the drug users and tax resisters have done pales in comparison to what the torturers have done. If the torturers are permitted to go scot-free, then the drug users and tax resisters deserve to be freed as well. Let’s compare the respective crimes. The torturers have initiated force against other people in violation of federal criminal statutes. That force has sometimes caused terrible damage to the victims, including physical injury, psychological disorder, and even death. There are those who say that since the torture was done to terrorists, the torturers should be let off the hook. But there are two big problems with that justification. First, while the people who have been tortured have been accused of terrorism, none of them has ever been convicted of the offense. Even the CIA and the military acknowledge that the suspected terrorists they have labeled as “enemy combatants” in the “war on terrorism” are entitled to a trial to determine whether they are in fact guilty of what they have been accused of. That’s what those kangaroo military tribunals are all about — to create the appearance that a fair trial is being held to determine the guilt or innocence of the accused. Under America’s system of justice, all people accused of a crime are presumed innocent. That presumption continues to operate continuously up to the point that a person is convicted of the crime with which he is charged. Thus, the torturers have tortured people who have never been convicted of a crime, neither in federal court nor by a kangaroo military tribunal — people whose presumed innocence has never been altered by a criminal conviction. In fact, many of those people whom the government labeled as “enemy-combatant terrorists” have been released by the government without any trial whatsoever, not even before a kangaroo military tribunal. That constitutes fairly strong circumstantial evidence that they were, in fact, innocent. So, in violating federal criminal laws against torture, the torturers have severely harmed or killed people who have never been convicted of a crime, people whom the law presumes are innocent of the crime that the CIA or the military accused them of, many of whom were ultimately released without a trial by the authorities. Second, even if a person is convicted of terrorism, whether in federal court or by a kangaroo military tribunal, where is the morality in torturing him at that point? There isn’t any. That’s in fact why our American ancestors, through the Bill of Rights, expressly prohibited federal officials from inflicting cruel and unusual punishments on people, including people who had been convicted of federal criminal offenses. Now, compare the federal crimes of drug possession and tax evasion. Many of the people who have been convicted of violating those federal criminal statutes are sitting in a federal penitentiary, possibly for the next several years or even the rest of their lives. Yet, what force did they initiate against other people? Answer: None. Unlike the torturers, they haven’t employed force that has resulted in physical or mental damage against anyone or caused the death of anyone. In fact, the only damage that drug users have caused is to themselves and possibly their families. Is that a valid reason for keeping them incarcerated? Why shouldn’t that be their personal business and the business of their families? What business does the state have punishing them for having engaging in purely self-destructive conduct? Do we permit the state to do the same with respect to alcoholics or tobacco users? In principle, it’s really no different with respect to tax resisters. They too haven’t initiated any force against other people that has resulted in mental or physical pain or death. All they’ve done is evade taxes, a purely peaceful act. Why should they be facing years in jail for that? While Switzerland treats tax fraud (e.g., false documents) as a crime, it does not treat tax evasion as a criminal offense. When people are caught evading taxes, the Swiss government’s remedy is limited to a civil proceeding in which the government seeks payment of the back taxes plus penalty and interest. Their belief is that tax evasion is not a matter for criminal penalties, only civil ones. If we’re going to let the torturers off the hook, then isn’t it only fair to let the drug users and tax resisters off the hook too? If the torturers aren’t going be punished for inflicting severe pain or even death in violation of federal criminal statutes, then the drug possessors and tax resisters, who haven’t initiated force against anyone, deserve no less.

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