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Political Gamesmanship at the Olympics

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So, why is Vice-president Mike Pence attending the Winter Olympics in South Korea? Is it because he’s a sports fan who just wants to enjoy the quadrennial spectacle of the Olympic games?

Unfortunately, no.

Pence is going to the games for political purposes. He intends to use them as an opportunity to level a propaganda attack against North Korea, the communist regime that the U.S. government has long been committed to regime-changing. To advance this political aim, Pence will be accompanied by Fred Warmbier, the father of the University of Virginia student who died in the United States after being held in North Korean custody for more than year.

I wonder if the thought has even occurred to Warmbier that President Trump and Pence are just using him as a political pawn, one whose role is to highlight the brutality of the North Korean regime. Never mind that the Olympics are supposed to be a forum for sports events, not political attacks and propaganda. The Trump-Pence mindset is: Why let a good opportunity to make propaganda points go unseized?

Actually though, Fred Warmbier’s participation in this dangerous political gamesmanship serve to provide valuable lessons to the American people, not about North Korea, but about our very own government.

After all, what’s the message that Warmbier thinks he’s delivering when he accompanies Pence to the Olympics? Giving him the benefit of the doubt, he thinks that his participation will focus the world’s attention on human-rights abuses in North Korea.

Well, duh! Whoever doesn’t know that the North Korean communist regime engages in human rights abuses has been living on another planet. After all, this is a communist regime, one that has been around for some 80 years. And not just any communist regime but instead one of the most oppressive communist regimes in the world.

Everyone knows this. The message that Warmbier thinks he is delivering by accompanying the vice-president of the United States is superfluous. It’s not a message that anyone hasn’t already gotten.

That includes his 21-year-old son Otto, who made the decision all on his own to enter North Korea and attempt to steal a large North Korean propaganda sign and bring it back to the United States.

That was stupid, very stupid. But let me tell you something about young people, and I speak from experience. Young people are stupid. But that’s not the worst of it. The worst of it is that they don’t realize they’re stupid. In fact, young people think that they are the smartest people in the world.

Did Warmbier’s stupidity justify the 15-year jail sentence that North Korean officials meted out to him? Of course not. Any reasonable regime would have simply reprimanded him and thrown him out of the country. After all, most everyone (except young people) know that young people are stupid, which means they do stupid things.

But this is no ordinary regime. It is one of the most brutal and oppressive regimes in the world. Its propaganda signs are akin to sacred property. Otto Warmbier was stupid to try to steal one and bring it back to the United States. He was risking his life and his liberty for a stupid reason.

At Warmbier’s trial, he was convicted and sentenced to 15 years at hard labor. No one will ever convince me that his harsh sentence didn’t have something to do with the U.S. government’s hostile regime-change policies toward the North Korean regime, including its system of sanctions that is designed to kill North Korean families through starvation. When an American tourist visits a country that is a target of a brutal U.S. regime-change operation that is intended to kill innocent citizens of that country, he shouldn’t be surprised when his plea for leniency after committing a criminal offense receives no sympathy from officials in the targeted regime.

Warmbier’s criminal trial is where the real lessons for Americans begin.

U.S. commentators have called the trial a “kangaroo” trial or a “show” trial. What do they mean by those terms? What they mean is this: North Korean officials “knew” that Warmbier was guilty. As far as they were concerned, they could have just sent him directly to jail without having to go through the niceties of a trial. But like other communist regimes in history, they wanted a trial to make it appear like judicial procedures had been followed before they punished the guy.

The reason it’s called a kangaroo or show trial is that the verdict is preordained. As soon as the trial is over, the verdict of guilty is going to be announced. The trial is just window-dressing.

Most Americans get that. Donald Trump gets that. Mike Pence gets that. The Pentagon, CIA, and NSA get that. Fred Warmbier gets that.

That’s where the lesson for the American people comes into play. Kangaroo legal proceedings and show trials are wrong. They are bad. And they are wrong and bad not just when conducted by communists but also when they are conducted by the U.S. government, like at the torture-prison camp in Cuba that is run by the Pentagon and the CIA.

In fact, this is what all too many Americans just don’t want to face and haven’t wanted to face since the 9/11 attacks: That the Pentagon-CIA “judicial system” in Guantanamo is a mirror image of the communist “judicial system” in North Korea. In fact, it’s entirely possible that when they were establishing their “judicial system” in Cuba, the Pentagon and the CIA modeled it on North Korea’s judicial system.

At Gitmo, the verdict is pre-ordained, just as it is in North Korea. Witnesses and defendants are tortured, just like in North Korea. Evidence acquired by torture or coercion is admissible at trial, just like it is in North Korea. The verdict will be guilty, just like in North Korea. That’s assuming that there are ever any trials at Gitmo. They’ve had defendants languishing in prison for more than 10 years with the pretense that they are going to be given a trial sometime before they die. If they ever are given a trial, it will be a show trial or a kangaroo trial, just like in North Korea.

Criminal defense attorneys? They wouldn’t dare put up an ardent defense for their clients in North Korea. They are there only for appearance sake. What about at Gitmo? At the beginning, the Pentagon and the CIA took an even worse position than North Korea does: they said that no defense lawyers would be permitted in their system. They argued that since they had located their torture center and prison in Cuba, the principles of the U.S. Constitution and the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court didn’t apply to them.

The Supreme Court ruled otherwise, much to the chagrin of the Pentagon and the CIA. But then they did the next-best thing: They began secretly monitoring communications between the accused and their lawyers, which is a grave violation of judicial norms here in the United States. Such secret surveillance essentially destroys the ability of criminal-defense lawyers to adequately defend their clients.

In the upcoming Gitmo death-penalty trial of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the criminal-defense lawyers refused to participate in this charade. When they learned that their communications with their clients were being secretly monitored by military officials, they simply resigned. They walked away, knowing that they could not defend their clients while the government was monitoring their communications with their clients. They knew that to stay would create the appearance of legitimacy to what was sure to be nothing more than a show trial or kangaroo trial, just like trials in North Korea.

Needless to say, the military judge in the trial was furious, ordering the defense lawyers to return. He apparently didn’t realize that in this country, civilians aren’t required to obey military orders. It’s only in places like North Koreans that civilians have to obey the orders of the military.

As the New York Times pointed out in an article in last Sunday’s edition, Nashiri has been left with a military lawyer without any experience in death-penalty trials. He himself admits that he lacks the ability to adequately defend his client. In fact, all that he is doing to defend his client is simply announcing at every pretrial hearing that he lacks the ability to defend his client, with the hope of establishing later on appeal that his client was denied effective assistance of counsel, just defendants in North Korea are.

Nashiri’s case also serves as a valuable lesson on the nature of the U.S. Empire, which is run principally by the Pentagon, the CIA, the NSA, and to a certain extent the FBI. Nashiri is being accused of participating in the bombing of the USS Cole, an American destroyer that was docking in Aden in Yemen. The specific charge is terrorism, which is a federal criminal offense under U.S. law.

If anything is clear, it’s this: a destroyer is a not a civilian target. It is, without any doubt whatsoever, a military target. So, why is Nashiri being charged with a criminal offense for purportedly striking a military target? After all, it has long been established that in war, it’s okay to strike at military targets.

The answer is this: Under U.S. Empire law, the Empire can go abroad and kill anyone it wants. Thus, when the U.S. government was killing hundreds of thousands of Iraq children with sanctions in the 1990s, that was considered okay under U.S. Empire law. But under U.S. Empire law when people over there retaliated for the deaths of the Iraqi children by striking at U.S. military vessels, U.S. troops, or U.S. governments officials, they were acting in violation of U.S. terrorism statutes. Thus, under U.S. Empire law it is okay for our government to sanction, invade, conquer, and occupy countries that have never attacked the United States and kill as many people as our government wants, but it is not okay for people to defend themselves or retaliate by striking at the troops or military vessels that are killing people over there; if they do, they will be killed either directly or after a show trial or kangaroo trial.

One other lesson about the Warmbier case is worth mentioning. After Warmbier’s release from North Korean captivity in a vegetative state, President Trump issued an edict barring Americans from travelling to North Korea, with hardly any peep of protest from either his acolytes or his critics in the U.S. mainstream press.

Why is that an important lesson? Because Trump’s edict is the essence of tyranny and oppression. Freedom of travel is a fundamental, God-given right to travel wherever one wants. It might be stupid for Americans to travel to North Korea, but they have the fundamental God-given right to do so. When people’s very own ruler wields the dictatorial authority to destroy their fundamental, God-given rights, including freedom of travel, even in the name of punishing a foreign dictatorship, that is the essence of tyranny here at home. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, tyranny in the name of fighting tyranny is still tyranny.

That brings up the final lesson, the most important one: the horrible mistake the American people made in permitting U.S. officials to convert the U.S. government to a national-security state after World War II. A national-security state is the same type of governmental apparatus that North Korea has. And China. And Vietnam. Yes, those totalitarian communist regimes have their CIA, their NSA, their giant permanent military establishments, and their FBI. They also have their torture, indefinite detention, state-sanctioned killings, secret surveillance, show trials, and kangaroo trials, just like the U.S. government does.

Yet, for more than a century after America’s founding, the United States had no Pentagon, no military industrial complex, no CIA, no NSA, and no FBI. That’s because our American ancestors didn’t want a totalitarian government structure, not even to oppose other totalitarian structures. They wanted a free society.

Converting the federal government to a national security state was the biggest mistake the American people ever made. Becoming like them to fight them is destroying our own liberty, our own principles, and our own country. If only Fred Warmbier and other Americans could see that.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.