Court rooms are unwieldy devices. They often let truths emerge that are inconvenient. This seems to have been the case in the trialÂ this month (April 2010)Â of Najibullah Zazi, who admitted to dumping his likely ineffectual bomb-making materials (made from beauty salon products) after he changed his mind about bombing the NYC subway system. He then flew home to Denver.
Zazi is a citizen of Afghanistan, but a legal permanent resident of the United States, who is accused of planning to commit suicide with a bomb in a crowded train. His arrest was famously broadcast with video footage of him buying hydrogen peroxide in a Denver beauty supply store. He has plead guilting to planning the crime. What is at issue is the fact that he chose not to commit the crime.
So, what does this mean to jurisprudence in America?Â It means that the government is now arresting people, not for something they actually did, or even for things they were actively planning to do, but for things that they formerly considered doing, but decided not to. This is alarming enough in itself, but more frightening still is the likelihood that this is only a tiny step away from arresting people for things they might do — given their ethnicities, cultures, religion, personal histories, and personality traits.
While this scenario may sounds like a bad mashup of 1984 and Minority Report, it is, unfortunately, fast becoming the reality of the present-day justice system in post 9/11 America. Only this month (April, 2010), it was reported that the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice has begun using software from a private company, IBM, to do predictive modeling of whom is most likely to commit a crime. Citizens of Florida, be very afraid.*Â Citizens of Missouri should likewise be worried. Even though it was withdrawn following controversy, the Missouri Fusion Center MIAC report classified entire categories of Americans as potential terrorists.Â Actually, citizens of the whole country should be alarmed. A report from the Department of Homeland Security also identified whole classes of citizens, as disparate as returning veterans, Ron Paul supporters, and born-again Christians, as potential terrorists.Â Phillip K. Dick’s nightmares are fast becoming our daily realities.
For decades now, scientists have been failing in efforts to use computers to model the behavior of the economy and the weather — both of which are far less complex than the human mind. Using such modeling tools, both the SEC and Federal Reserve put our economy exactly where it is today — mostly broke, and broken. When the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) models get it wrong, the consequences can be even worse. The list of disasters resulting from bad weather predictions is simply too long to enumerate. In either case though, a person — you — can’t end up in jail as the result of a missing variable or a computer bug.
All this technology aside, there is an even more basic, and far larger problem with the concept of pre-emptive prosecution: it undermines civil society. Where is the motive, under such a system, for people to reconsider the consequences of their actions if they can be held equally accountable for committing or not committing the crime? By the same standard being pursued in trying Mr. Zazi, a good percentage of all people are guilty of some crime or another — whether that be having thought of jaywalking or of having considered eliminating their mother-in-law.Â Predictive prosecution is’t a recipe for a safer society, it is a recipe for turning half the country into a detention camp and the other half into mindless, soulless, unquestioning automatons of the state whose highest common denominator matches the lowest common denominator of the committee of unelected bureaucrats who dictated the parameters of a computer program.
We should not forget that Mr. Zazi was previous investigated and cleared as a threat by the F.B.I.Â It was only after the Obama administration felt the need to demonstrate a political victory in the war on terror that the case was reevaluated and a plea agreement was extorted out of Mr. Zazi by the Justice Department’s threat of charging his relatives with miscellaneous charges of dubious credibility. As a result, he has plead guilty to charges of having aiding al-Qaeda. Of course, the truth of any matter can never be known with any degree of certainty in plea arrangement situations, which are notoriously abused by overzealous prosecutors.
President Obama where is the change? Under your guidance, America is now not only putting people on trial for “thought crimes,” it is nowÂ extending that abuse of justice to putting them on trial for “past thought” crimes — and that puts us on the slippery slope to far worse: pre-emptive prosecution. Is an Obama Doctrine of Predictive Prosecution, to match the Bush Doctrine of Preemptive War, really the legacy you want to leave America? Is it not crystal clear to you that African-Americans and other minorities will most certainly be disproportionately victimized by such a system?
This is not quite the change we were expecting.