Two “Soldiers of God” Go Ballistic in the Courtroom
by NORMAN SIMMS February 27, 2014
Because Great Britain does not have the death penalty, the judge in Court Room No. 2 of Old Bailey in London pronounced sentence on the two African young men, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, for the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby last year. The older Nigerian, a convert to Islam, was deemed beyond reforming, and so was given a full life sentence. The younger, in a somewhat lighter way, was sentenced to 45 years without parole. While we might wish for harsher penalties, perhaps these are fair and rational under the limitations of British law.
"A betrayal of Islam" was read out by the presiding magistrate to the crowded courtroom, at which point the two men went ballistic: shouting abuse, punching their guards, and forcing the judge to have them removed from the courtroom. Is this civil behaviour, civil justice, or a manifestation of evil? How do civilized people deal with the uncivilized fanatics in our midst?
The judge described the murder of the young soldier, Lee Rigby, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, as an act of premeditated butchery-right on the streets of London in broad daylight. This was no ordinary murder. It was no hijacking of jet liners to crash into tall buildings. This was a living nightmare.
More than condemning the barbarous crime in terms which no sane person would disagree with, the magistrate said that while the two murderers attempted to justify their actions on political grounds-they never denied what they did but claimed that they were waging jihad against all western nations and their soldiers engaged in a crusade against Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere-there was no evidence of a conspiracy orchestrated overseas. They want to be seen as "soldiers of God" and to be taken as prisoners of war, Holy War. They wished the police had shot them dead on the spot so they would not have had to face the judicial system and they did not expect to have faced the rest of their life in prison, locked away from the world. In this way, by calling them isolated individuals, the court deprived these brutal terrorists of any legal rationale or political justification for their brutal actions. They were also considered "sane," in the sense that they were in a state of mind to understand that what they did was wrong, criminal and cold-blooded. One must read these statements as standing between what would be said of any murders in the dock
However, as indicated above, when the judge began to read out his sentence, the two murderers began to shout, punch the police guards sitting next to them, and to make such a ruckus in the courtroom that they were manhandled down to the holding cells below the courtroom-where the noise could still be heard. In this last show of defiance, they demonstrated that they did not have the civil sense of dignity and thus virtually ruled themselves outside of civilized society. The scuffle and shouts were further insults to the parents and friends of the man they had run down with a car and then attempted to dismember and decapitate on the street in front of the barracks where he lived as a serving trooper. It was a flagrant insult to all of civilized humanity. But it was petty and childish, a tantrum that further discredited their so-called cause.
At what point, we may ask, do accused parties, as well as convicted felons awaiting sentencing, deserve to be treated as ordinary citizens by courts of law? On the one hand, to be sure, under British, as well as American law, every accused is treated as innocent until proved guilty, and even after found guilty of however heinous a crime to be treated with a modicum of dignity, not because they in themselves continue to have their basic civil and human rights respected: but because the judiciary, like the police-and we are attempted to add: the media, as well-should demonstrate the self-control and respect they manifest on behalf of all society. On the other hand, there are acts of brutality and abuse-terrorism, for example-which remove the guilty parties from a place wherein society's attitude, formalized in police forces, courts and jails-cannot maintain neutrality or objectivity.
Total condemnation against certain acts should not, however, mean that the accused in such crimes of gross enormity are considered guilty before so proved. The trial system should allow them more than a modicum of fairness in allowing themselves to defend themselves (through their lawyers), while the prosecutor adduces evidence to show their culpability. If there is to be a jury empanelled, there should be no expectation of finding "peers" to the defendants, insofar as one would not seek out men and women of a similar disposition to terrorism or similar mass murder, and citizens should be sought who indicate their willingness and ability to distinguish between the objective facts of the case and their personal disgust at what has been committed. Their revulsion at the crime is not the same thing as their private interest in its proceedings (such as being related to one of the victims or the accused); we would not want jurors who have no opinions on horrendous criminal acts. It would also be strange to find individuals unaware of the basic facts in the major catastrophic events in which the crimes were committed; such ignorance would suggest almost culpable indifference or lack of a moral conscience. This is a problem with dealing with terrorist trials, as distinct from the usual homicides and acts of mayhem, where special degrees of self-control and moral courage are required.
When accused persons refuse to cooperate or recognize the court's jurisdiction, then they consequently forfeit many of the rights and privileges accorded others who display civility and respect to the due processes of the law. Because of gestures of contempt, constant interruptions and attempts to harm officers of the court, the defendants may be ejected from the room-or, as has happened in certain jurisdictions, may find themselves shackled and muzzled, even put in a straitjacket, if their presence is deemed necessary.
Their temper tantrums are childish, to be sure, but they mark something not to be indulged or pitied, but to be despised; the failure to grow up, take on adult responsibilities, and confront real problems in the world in a mature manner. The failure to grow up indicates deep structural faults in the communities where these young men grew up, in their teachers and religious leaders. My more psychologically-trained colleagues can point out the ways in which mother-infant gazes have not worked to create fully-developed emotional connections in their brains and in the inter-personal relationships needed to make society work harmoniously and peacefully, yet accommodating differences in opinion and even significant variations in religious perspectives on the world.