Rome v. New York

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Rome v. New York

Washington is making a mockery of the country’s judicial system.

Eight years after 9/11, the indicted terrorist who claims to have been the brains behind that horror, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, is being granted a civil trial in New York. This is a dangerous, groundbreaking precedent made all the more so by Attorney General Eric Holder’s claim that only one verdict will be acceptable to the state.

That 9/11 was assumed an act of war by sensible people is not the matter we are going to consider here. In this brief analysis we will not enter into the argument on whether or not Mohammed should be tried in a military or a civil court either. Neither will we consider the innocence or guilt of Mohammed.

What we are going to consider is an even more dangerous matter: the threat to a binding principle that the words of the attorney general pose to America’s entire legal system.

The Roman system of law is inquisitorial. It presumes guilt till innocence is proven. It found its most extreme expression in the Catholic inquisitions of the Middle Ages. Out of it grew the modern-day inquisitorial system of law. It forms the basis of the European Union’s legal system. Its roots are embedded in the old “Holy” Roman Empire.

This contrasts with the adversarial system of law practiced in Anglo-Saxon countries.

“The adversarial system places a premium on the individual rights of the accused, whereas the inquisitorial system places the rights of the accused secondary to the search for truth” (

The United States’ system of jurisprudence is founded upon the principle of assumed innocence of any party brought before the courts of the land to answer a charge. It is the obligation of the prosecution to prove either the innocence or guilt of any defendant.

“Innocent till proven guilty” was the foundation of the legal system in America’s courtrooms. Yet when challenged by Senate Judiciary Committee member Herb Kohl with the question as to what would happen if the jury does not convict Mohammed, the attorney general proclaimed, “Failure is not an option.”

That answer rips the very foundation out of America’s legal system.

According to the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, a person cannot be convicted of a crime and have a penalty imposed without the proper course of justice taking place. Although due process, specifically, is not defined in the Constitution, it is a universally recognized principle within U.S. law that a person charged—the defendant—is presumed innocent till proven guilty by the prosecution in a court of law. This is the very foundation underpinning that which has become known as a “fair trial.”

There may be no doubt about the guilt of terrorist Mohammed, but to claim, publicly, before the event of any trial—and thus condition the mind of prospective jurists to the effect—that only a verdict of guilty in a particular case is acceptable by the state, is to make a complete mockery of America’s legal system before the whole world.

If this case goes forward, it sets a highly dangerous precedent for the future of American law.