Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Wartime Injustice

[posted by Callimachus]

She was an attractive young widow whose son ran with a shady crowd. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time. When they cornered her and questioned her, she gave the wrong answers. But the American nation was enraged by a terrorist attack. And the administration already had proven its power to brush aside legal niceties like habeas corpus.

Though a civilian and a U.S. citizen, she was held in military custody, on board a warship at first, then in a cell with only a straw pallet and a bucket for furniture. Four armed men stood over her at all times. Her captors kept her in manacles in the sweltering summer heat and wrapped her head in a padded canvas bag -- supposedly to prevent suicide.

She was tried in a military court, under the U.S. military's lax rules of evidence. A key bit of evidence -- the diary of the chief suspect, which would have exonerated her of the most serious charges -- was suppressed by the government. The president signed her death warrant, in spite of the military judges' recommendation that her sentence be commuted to life in solitary, and it was widely believed that her religion alone was among her greatest crimes. Her faith was despised in the America where she lived.

She wore a long black dress and a black veil. Even the hangman was dismayed that his government would kill the woman. Afterward, her body was stripped naked and the clothes given to charity. Then the corpse was wrapped in sheets and buried in a pinewood box in a shallow grave beside the prison walls. Some guards obtained locks of her hair, which they sold as souvenirs.

Meet Mary Surratt