Advancing a Free Society

A Response to Human Rights Watch and Human Rights First

Monday, March 5, 2012

I promised yesterday that I would have more to say about Andrea Prasow’s comments on the fairness of the Majid Khan plea agreement after I had a chance to stew on them a bit. In the meantime, I have learned that Human Rights Watch, for whom Prasow works, is not the only major human rights organization to have weighed in on the Khan plea. In this post by Advocacy Counsel Melina Milazzo, Human Rights First offers a thematically similar critique. The emphasis in Prasow’s and Milazzo’s comments differs slightly, but as they both advance a similar thesis, I am treating them in a single post.

The thesis, as Milazzo puts it, is that “While this [deal] might be touted as a win-win for the U.S. government and Mr. Khan himself, it’s ultimately a loss for the integrity of the American justice system.” Prasow formulates it in similar terms: “Yes, a man pleaded guilty today to serious crimes. But his plea is no victory, at least not for justice and the rule of law. Instead, it is a reminder that a fundamentally flawed system will continue to produce fundamentally flawed results.”

I think this thesis is wrong on its own terms. I also think that the arguments Prasow and Milazzo muster in support of it are either wrong or non sequiturs–or both.

Let’s start with their big picture point. In my view, at least, any time a criminal defendant is willing, voluntarily and without compulsion, to take responsibility for his crimes (which are in this case very serious crimes), that is a good thing. If we are to condemn it as  ”a loss for the integrity of the American justice system” or as “reminder that a fundamentally flawed system will continue to produce fundamentally flawed results,” we need a pretty good reason to think the results flawed or lacking in integrity.

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