Could there be a more heinous villain in the popular mind than Osama bin Laden? No.
And/But the debate rages: if he should be captured alive, would he, should he, be accorded habeas corpus rights or not?
History (and the American tradition) would teach us an important lesson and provide us with a useful guide — if we would only listen.
On March 5, 1770, a tense situation due to a heavy British military presence in Boston boiled over to incite brawls between soldiers and civilians, and eventually led to troops discharging their muskets after being attacked by a rioting crowd. Three civilians were killed at the scene of the shooting, and two died after the incident.
Samuel Adams, a patriot and founding member of the Sons of Liberty, called the incident a “plot to massacre the inhabitants of Boston” and used it to rouse fellow colonists to rebellion. It worked: the shots fired that day are widely considered to be the initial battle of the American Revolution.
Who, then or now, could defend what the British soldiers did that day?
…[N]o lawyers in the Boston area wanted to defend the soldiers, as they believed it would be a huge career mistake. A desperate request was sent to John Adams from Preston, pleading for his work on the case.
Adams, who had everything to lose and nothing to gain (his political career was just beginning), nevertheless took the case because he believed that even the most hated criminal is entitled to a legal defense.
He was a masterful lawyer and mounted a successful defense of the accused. As a result of his skill, all but two of the soldiers were acquitted. The others were convicted of a reduced charge of manslaughter.
In his closing argument to the jury, Adams (a masterful orator) said something that, if he is ever honored with a memorial in Washington DC, should be engraved in stone for future generations of Americans — and all people — to remember forever:
Facts are stubborn things…Whatever our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence…The law is, on one hand, inexorable to the cries and lamentations of the prisoners. But on the other hand, it is deaf, deaf as an adder to the clamors of the populace.
John Adams, founding father, patriot and president, is speaking to us now, you and me, and our children, and our childrens’ children — if we would only listen.