Holy Land Verdict: A Window on America

As I’ve noted before, every system of government and every method of organizing a society represents a gamble and an explicit or implicit declaration that the society values certain things over others.

 No system does (or can do) everything perfectly. Some are better at preserving order; some are better at maximizing individual freedom and latitude;  some are better at enabling the production of wealth; some excel at nurturing a sense of community and shared heritage, and so on. Current example: Read any story about Russian society today, and you’ll see that many Russians would gladly trade all their newfound freedom of markets, press, etc. for three good meals a day and the sense of security they had before Communism splintered.

 We should remember Isaiah Berlin’s sober maxim: One good thing is not another (OGTINA).  Liberty is liberty, but it is not necessarily security. Security is not prosperity, prosperity is not community. It’s possible to have one of these goods,  or several, but it’s never possible to have all of them  at once to the maximum degree, because strengthening one leads to the weakening of another. If you want maximum security from crime, it’s best to live in a police  state where cops cordon off entire blocks and go door-to-door searching for the guy who just  robbed the corner store. And when they catch him, they don’t mess around with calling a lawyer.  If you want a society that values freedom of movement and the presumption of innocence in law enforcement, criminals will sometimes use those same freedoms to ply their trade and get away.

So what does all this rambling have to do with this week’s Holy Land Foundation trial in Dallas, which collapsed in a muddled mistrial? Plenty.

The government invested millions of dollars over a span of several years investigating this organization, which it accused of funneling money to the terrorist group Hamas. It compiled a gigantically complicated paper trail. It enlisted the aid of foreign intelligence officers.

And in the end, who decided the whole thing? Not a panel of Harvard’s best Middle East experts. Not a group of veteran CIA agents. Not a select team of judges with expertise in international law.

No, the whole complex affair was dropped in the laps of  a bunch of ordinary citizens who spend most of their time cleaning teeth, selling furniture, troubleshooting computers and  driving their kids to soccer practice.

That’s part of the American gamble, as it says in my handy copy of the Constitution, Amendment VI. The state has to make its case to this randomly chosen jury; if they don’t buy it, or can’t figure it out, no deux ex machina comes to the rescue. That’s the system. Other countries do it differently, but this is what we chose. Most of the time, for most people, it produces a rough approximation of justice. Sometimes it goes spinning off the rails.

Based on what I’ve read about the case, I believe  that Holy Land money ended up in terrorists’ hands. But under our system, the officials are  not guilty–which is not the same as being innocent.  That’s the way we do it. That’s our gamble and our faith. 

 Which reminds me: I got a jury summons yesterday. I don’t know much about counterfeiting, embezzlement or armed robbery, but I may be up for a crash course any day now. If so, I’ll try to do my part.


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