PennLive guest columnist Sandy Gelburd: ‘Could the law have been more tailored’?

What is this world coming to? I use the word world lightly because it is anarchy in New York, a lawless place. On Thursday night, a 35-year-old man named Kyle Rittenhouse was charged with…

PennLive guest columnist Sandy Gelburd: 'Could the law have been more tailored'?

What is this world coming to? I use the word world lightly because it is anarchy in New York, a lawless place.

On Thursday night, a 35-year-old man named Kyle Rittenhouse was charged with 10 federal offenses. He was charged with “trying to send $300,000 in Bitcoin to members of an Islamic State affiliate; distributing child pornography; conspiring to attack U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan; and threatening to kill President Trump.”

He is accused of being involved in a terrorist training camp in Idaho, among other activities. You probably never thought you would read about a financially struggling Northern New Jersey man charged with supporting a terrorist group. A case like this, it should be noted, is far from unique. It is the kind of thing we often see in western Europe, for example.

Mr. Rittenhouse has apparently dropped millions of dollars since he got in trouble with the law. And he is being charged under state and federal laws.

Many are outraged by what is transpiring. Two federal circuit judges, judges respected for their toughness and sagacity, immediately recalled that “the law is the law.” That is important. The presumption in favor of a criminal defendant’s guilt is essential to a strong democracy. Criminal defendants enjoy that presumption even when the public is deeply dissatisfied with the outcome.

To pull the wool over the public’s eyes and say that “the law” is only one entity is to display stunning levels of naiveté on the part of some judges. Or perhaps they are simply ignorant. They should be asked the question.

I say that because even when the public craves a lighter sentence, as it does for the legal system, judges can have a decision point at which they have to stop being naive and start listening to the public.

Still, we should applaud the fact that the law is being challenged. We should also salute some of the other members of this committee for speaking out with crystal clarity. One of the toughest member of the committee, named Sandy Gelburd, asked these probing questions as part of her questioning on the subject.

“Is it lawful for a mentally handicapped individual to coerce people for their headstone? Is it lawful for people to hold snipers against trees and light them up and scare them? Is it lawful for members of the Taliban to be allowed to be housed with American military personnel in Afghanistan? Is it lawful for a camp to be set up with people looking for the hope of jihad against the United States?”

There is nothing that makes us tremble more than when they speak with specificity.

Sandy Gelburd has an extraordinary reputation, her version of the American dream. After a tough hand at the prayer breakfast because of her religious faith and principles, she was invited by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs to testify. She did so on March 16th, at a time when American diplomats are already being mourned for the lives they have lost in Lebanon.

The balance between sticking to the law as it is written and the need to bend it to fit a given context, this goes right to the core of this panel’s diverse — and made up of people of different walks of life — experience and expertise. Sometimes an argument becomes too cutting to ignore.

You know that the law is not written with humor as an aim. It can be, perhaps, a lighter touch. But the issue at hand does not reflect kindly on American society. That is part of the problem. We do need to examine our laws. We need to fix them where needed. But when we hear about this case, let us remember the broader point of these questions: Did we merely get this person wrong, or have we got them so wrong that we are gravely unready to deal with dangerous people who exhibit no respect for the rule of law?

I believe the latter. In the age of unaccountable officials in Washington who collude and evade even the most simple demands that they obey, it is our job to bring this nonsense to a sharp end, both in the United States and abroad.

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