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McConnell, Unreason, and Witches

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A Pro-Reason post by Seth Kurtenbach.

According to Fox News, Republican Senator Mitch McConnell is trying to exploit the recent Casey Anthony verdict and subsequent irrational public outcry in order to deny terror suspects the right to a fair trial.  His reasoning is a bit peculiar, and I think worth a closer examination.

Fox quotes McConnell as saying, “These are not American citizens. We just found with the Caylee Anthony case how difficult it is to get a conviction in a U.S. court… I don’t think a foreigner is entitled to all the protection in the Bill of Rights. They should not be in U.S. courts and before military commissions.”

It looks like the reasoning here is this:  It is difficult to get a conviction in a U.S. court, as evidenced by the Casey Anthony trial, because we are protected by the Bill of Rights.  It should be easy to convict terror suspects.  Therefore, terror suspects should be tried in a military tribunal, rather than in a U.S. court.

Let’s look at some assumptions that this reasoning depends on.

First, he assumes Casey Anthony’s trial exhibits a failure of the U.S. court system.  Insofar as the U.S. system is evidence-based, rather than prejudiced by emotion and mob-mentality, the Casey Anthony case serves as a shining example of the system working. He must be assuming that she is guilty, and that the jury made a huge mistake.  However, the U.S. court system doesn’t convict based on assumed guilt.  I wonder what evidence he has that the prosecutors chose not to present to the jury.  What an oversight on their part!  Oh wait, they presented everything they had, and it was insufficient for a conviction.  I guess he has no reason to think she’s guilty, since we’re supposed to assume she is innocent until the evidence shows her to be guilty.  Maybe military tribunals don’t do that?  Maybe have some test that would prove that Casey Anthony is a witch.

Casey Anthony at her Military Tribunal, overseen by Nancy Grace

Second, he assumes that it is a bad thing that convictions are difficult to procure.  I can think of nothing more terrifying than a trial system that makes the prosecutor’s job easy.  Things used to be set up that way:  it was called the Inquisition.  The U.S. justice system is based on the legal principles that were painstakingly crafted during the Enlightenment.  Accusing someone of a crime generates a serious epistemic burden, and the cost of alleviating this burden is the successful prosecution of innocents.  It is irrational to endorse the pre-Enlightenment notion of justice, because it puts yourself in jeopardy:  anyone can accuse you of a crime and easily convict you.  No, it is a good thing that convictions are difficult to obtain.  It prevents prejudice from holding sway, and demands strong evidence to support an accusation.

The third assumption is that military tribunals will procure convictions with more ease than a U.S. trial.  I don’t know much about military tribunals, but insofar as this assumption is true, I think this is a good reason against military tribunals.  If military tribunals are more susceptible to prejudicial and unsupported convictions, then they should not be used.  If this assumption is false, and military tribunals operate with Enlightenment principles, then McConnell’s argument makes no sense, because it will be just as difficult to get a conviction here as in a public court.  Either military tribunals are fair, or they are not.  If they are fair, then it will be difficult to get a conviction.  If they are unfair, then there is an increased risk of convicting innocents.  McConnell seems to think that military tribunals procure easy convictions, hence they are unfair (by modus tollens, bitches!).  Therefore, they carry an increased risk of convicting innocents.  How does this help America in the war on terror?  It seems only to give good reasons for foreigners to rightly hate us.

Fourth assumption: all terror suspects are guilty.  If one assumes this, then it is impossible for innocents to be convicted, because one is accused only if one is guilty.  Pretty neat, huh?  This assumption is required in order for one to believe in good conscience that military tribunals easily procure convictions and that this is a good thing.  But again, this assumption is anti-Enlightenment, and only justifies foreigners’ hatred for America.

The idea is to get them to hate us less, not give them legitimate reasons to hate us.  Please, can we re-introduce Reason to the discussion, and stop the witch burning?


About Seth Kurtenbach

Philosophy grad student who wandered into a computer science PhD program with a backpack full of modal logic and decision theory.

One comment on “McConnell, Unreason, and Witches

  1. Scott Weber
    July 11, 2011

    Well said! I hadn’t thought about this, really, but you make some great points. I’m gonna print this out for my ‘files’! Thanks.

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This entry was posted on July 10, 2011 by in Author: Seth Kurtenbach, In The News and tagged , , , , , .
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