So, the lone holdout in the first civilian trial of a Guantanamo detainee has resulted in a mixed verdict–a conviction on a charge that could end up as a life sentence, but acquittal on 224 murder counts (284 in all). Let the second-guessing of the verdict begin:
On the Senate floor Thursday, Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said the president should offer assurances that “terrorists will be tried from now on in the military commission system that was established for this very purpose at the secure facility at Guantanamo Bay, or detained indefinitely, if they cannot be tried without jeopardizing national security.”
Federal Judge William Dwyer once explained that the jury is a ritualistic means of resolving conflict, a deeply symbolic cultural practice that should bring closure to cases that reasonable people might otherwise disagree about endlessly. He opposed second-guessing verdicts and interviewing jurors, as he believed it robbed the jury system of its power. I’m inclined to agree.
As is a theme on this blog, we also think this view of civilian juries forgets their special role in democracy–that of a forum for lay citizens in the judicial branch, a chance for everyday people to weigh in on controversies small and large. In The Jury and Democracy we show evidence that the jury functions in precisely this way, by inspiring citizens to become more active in many aspects of public life. We aren’t “jeapordizing national security” when we have lay citizens deliberate on Guantanamo cases; if anything, we’re helping to secure it by showing how our Constitutional conception of trial-by-jury holds even when sorting through the details of a terrorist attack.