FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Terrorism and the Law: a Question of “Free Will”?

by

Photo by Kurt Raschke | CC BY 2.0

The War is not only being fought on the battlefields of Raqqa, Kabul and Chattisigargh; nor only in the classrooms, forests, and financial markets; it is also being fought in the courts. There has been a new development in one such trial, that of Chiheb Esseghaier, the “VIA Rail Bomber”, who was found guilty in March 2015 of a terror-related conspiracy. His plan was to place a bomb under the VIA Rail bridge, near Niagara Falls, connecting the U.S. and Canada.

This past week Esseghaier asked for an appeal of his life-sentence because, with the aid of medication and therapy, he now recognizes that his actions were symptomatic of mental illness.  At trial, Esseghaier had chosen to conduct his own defence and rejected psychiatric evidence that he suffered from schizophrenia.

“You are lying,” he told a psychiatrist on the stand. “If you say it’s a delusion, then the Qur’an is a delusion.”

Moreover, Justice Michael Code had expressed dissatisfaction with the psychiatric report of Dr. Ramshaw which found that Esseghaier was suffering from schizophrenia and therefore unfit for sentencing.  The judge said there was not “a scintilla of evidence” from the pretrial and trial record to suggest Esseghaier was unfit and ordered a second mental health assessment.

This was provided by Dr. Philip Klassen, a senior colleague of Dr. Ramshaw’s at the University of Toronto, who also serves as Vice-President of Medical Services at Ontario Shores Center for Mental Health Services. The following is an excerpt from an interview of Klassen, aired on CBC radio on August 1st, in which he is asked to explain the legal technicality on the basis of which it was determined that Esseghaier was fit for sentencing (the “limited cognitive test”, which requires mere awareness of the basic mechanics of what is going on at trial):

“Philip Klassen, you were brought in to testify after the judge said he found flaws. What happened?”

“ …The key issue I think really is that the bar is relatively low, and at times it’s somewhat concerning when people are, as Mr. Esseghaier was, in fact mentally ill and conducting their own defense”.

“Do you think the standard works or should the rules change?”

“ … if somebody has a major mental illness that drove the criminal behavior but, because of that illness lack insight into the fact that they have an illness and choose not to avail themselves of the remedies available, I think that’s a challenge … they go down a road that’s not really out of their own quote-unquote “free will””.

In criticizing the “low-bar” for fitness to stand trial, Klassen highlights the problematic assumption of “free will” behind it, so pervasive in the capitalist culture of high expectations, and which in this case doomed a schizophrenic to a life-sentence in jail.  It is noteworthy that in their web-page write-up of this news story, the CBC omitted the “quote-unquote” caveat attached by the psychiatrist to his use of the phrase “free will”.  This “slip” conveniently serves to reassure readers about their delusion that this “terrorist” chose to commit his crime, and therefore deserves his punishment.

And yet those who live with mental illness whether as patient, doctor or relative, and who have been exposed to the full power of the unconscious, are rightfully dubious about the extent of anyone’s “free will”.

This is obvious in the case of schizophrenic symptoms like those of Esseghaeir who was phobic about the number three because of its association with the Christian Trinity, and therefore could not sleep in jail because they offered him two sheets and one blanket (as a form of psychological torture?).

But even those who have been spared undue anxiety cannot deny that daily experiences, like the effectiveness of subliminal advertising and pervasive sadism in the media, are signs of relentless pressure from the “darker side” of the unconscious.

Yet, the myth of “free-will” is central to the functioning of our so-called “free market”, “free press”, and “democracy”; and, it is in the name of these highly imperfect institutions that Canada participates in bombing and torturing many others like Esseghaier.  His case is only one battle in this larger war.

This raises further questions about the extent of his “free will”. Consider the fact that during Esseghaier’s trial, the jury heard that he had been the victim of a “failed entrapment.”  An undercover FBI agent had gained the man’s trust by offering him free meals, and surreptitiously recorded their conversations, which made up the bulk of the evidence in the case.  But Judge Code blocked any media coverage — including barring the recording or broadcast of the agent’s voice or image — to protect the FBI agent, and in effect help to secure a guilty verdict.

Thus, not only is Esseghaier’s “free will” called into question by the influence of powerful and destructive inner forces, and by legal loopholes apparently designed to subvert attempts to mitigate the damage done by this inhumane principle; but the fact that he was a victim of shadowy plots organized by spies (aka FBI agents), who seem to operate outside of any international legal framework, also suggests that he was more “patsy” than demon.

Given the depth of his concerns, the question may also be raised as to whether Dr. Klassen, who holds a prominent corporate position in the world of psychiatry, may have been under unwanted pressure to help produce a politically palatable result in this case.

There is no doubt that Judge Code was under such pressures in light of his interventions to protect the FBI and to call for a second psychiatric opinion to ensure that this “terrorist” got the maximum sentence.

So much for medical or legal “objectivity”!

The final irony in this case is, however, that when it comes right down to it in this society, which boasts about its commitment to mental health, there is no sympathy or understanding at all.

More articles by:
February 21, 2018
Cecil Bothwell
Billy Graham and the Gospel of Fear
Ajamu Baraka
Venezuela: Revenge of the Mad-Dog Empire
Edward Hunt
Treating North Korea Rough
Binoy Kampmark
Meddling for Empire: the CIA Comes Clean
Ron Jacobs
Stamping Out Hunger
Ammar Kourany – Martha Myers
So, You Think You Are My Partner? International NGOs and National NGOs, Costs of Asymmetrical Relationships
Michael Welton
1980s: From Star Wars to the End of the Cold War
Judith Deutsch
Finkelstein on Gaza: Who or What Has a Right to Exist? 
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
War Preparations on Venezuela as Election Nears
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Military Realities
Steve Early
Refinery Safety Campaign Frays Blue-Green Alliance
Ali Mohsin
Muslims Face Increasing Discrimination, State Surveillance Under Trump
Julian Vigo
UK Mass Digital Surveillance Regime Ruled Illegal
Peter Crowley
Revisiting ‘Make America Great Again’
Andrew Stewart
Black Panther: Afrofuturism Gets a Superb Film, Marvel Grows Up and I Don’t Know How to Review It
CounterPunch News Service
A Call to Celebrate 2018 as the Year of William Edward Burghardt Du Bois by the Saturday Free School
February 20, 2018
Nick Pemberton
The Gun Violence the Media Shows Us and the State Violence They Don’t
John Eskow
Sympathy for the Drivel: On the Vocabulary of President Nitwit
John Steppling
Trump, Putin, and Nikolas Cruz Walk Into a Bar…
John W. Whitehead
America’s Cult of Violence Turns Deadly
Ishmael Reed
Charles F. Harris: He Popularized Black History
Will Podmore
Paying the Price: the TUC and Brexit
George Burchett
Plumpes Denken: Crude thinking
Binoy Kampmark
The Caring Profession: Peacekeeping, Blue Helmets and Sexual Abuse
Lawrence Wittner
The Trump Administration’s War on Workers
David Swanson
The Question of Sanctions: South Africa and Palestine
Walter Clemens
Murderers in High Places
Dean Baker
How Does the Washington Post Know that Trump’s Plan Really “Aims” to Pump $1.5 Trillion Into Infrastructure Projects?
February 19, 2018
Rob Urie
Mueller, Russia and Oil Politics
Richard Moser
Mueller the Politician
Robert Hunziker
There Is No Time Left
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Decides to Hold Presidential Elections, the Opposition Chooses to Boycott Democracy
Daniel Warner
Parkland Florida: Revisiting Michael Fields
Sheldon Richman
‘Peace Through Strength’ is a Racket
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Taking on the Pentagon
Patrick Cockburn
People Care More About the OXFAM Scandal Than the Cholera Epidemic
Ted Rall
On Gun Violence and Control, a Political Gordian Knot
Binoy Kampmark
Making Mugs of Voters: Mueller’s Russia Indictments
Dave Lindorff
Mass Killers Abetted by Nutjobs
Myles Hoenig
A Response to David Axelrod
Colin Todhunter
The Royal Society and the GMO-Agrochemical Sector
Cesar Chelala
A Student’s Message to Politicians about the Florida Massacre
Weekend Edition
February 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
American Carnage
Paul Street
Michael Wolff, Class Rule, and the Madness of King Don
Andrew Levine
Had Hillary Won: What Now?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail