The End of Presumed Innocence

Tags: Guantánamo Bay, terrorism, Due Process, Presumption of Innocence, Christina Majaski

Christina Majaski by Christina Majaski

Over 100 prisoners currently being held in Guantanamo Bay are on a hunger strike and the painful practice of force-feeding them is being viewed largely as a form of torture, and likely to be terminated. There is a good chance that many of these prisoners are going to die sometime soon. Now is probably a good time to take a look at what exactly the “presumption of innocence” means, who it applies to, and the consequences of overlooking this principle.

Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat, or basically, innocent until proven guilty, is defined by the principle that in a criminal trial, the prosecution must provide evidence that the person or alleged “criminal” is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  This principle has long been considered one which keeps our legal system fair and protects us from murdering and convicting people simply because a neighbor wants to cause trouble. You know, the sometimes shady practices which are rumored to occur in other nations.

However, with the help of the neighborly media and eager news teams, it’s easy to come up with our own conclusions and determine that a person is guilty as soon as the story airs. It’s fortunate for many people who have been falsely accused of crimes, that we don’t make decisions and convict, hang, or murder people simply because of the information provided by, CNN, for example.

In the instance of the prisoners being held in Guantanamo Bay, one may argue that they are not Americans so our rights and our laws are not applicable. However, they are being held by Americans, with no trial planned for the near future, no evidence (that we know of, well, because no trial), for crimes that may or may not have occurred. Additionally, a number of “civilized” nations other than our own, hold the presumption of innocence as a fundamental right.

What happens then, when the prisoners die? Shouldn’t we assume then, that 166 people were held for a number of years and then passed away as innocent? And if we do, what are the repercussions of basically killing, or letting innocent people die? If we don’t take measures to either provide evidence of the crimes, or trials which allow the prisoners to be proven guilty, it’s almost certain that globally, our reputation, our judicial system, our principles will at the least be laughable by the rest of the world.

The presumption of innocence lies with the U.S., not the prisoners. They aren’t required to prove that they are innocent, but rather we must prove that they are guilty. If we let them die, albeit by their own decision to not eat, how will it affect how we, and the rest of the world, view our justice system later? Based on the record we’ve had thus far regarding GITMO, very few logical people if any, will be able to say beyond a reasonable doubt, that 166 guilty prisoners died. But, based on our own principles and fundamental rights, we are left no other option but to determine that 166 pesumably innocent prisoners died, which when viewed as the bigger picture in an already horrific and confusing story, carry far more repercussions than the latter.  

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