For citizens who aren’t attorneys or judges, procedural rules are bizarre and alien creatures. As bewildering as rules about reading of Miranda rights and parole are though, procedural due process, or the right to have the correct procedure used against you before being deprived of liberty or property, serves as a necessary safeguard against governments seeking to launch witch hunts or show trials against scapegoats.
The recent terrorist attack on the American embassy in Benghazi triggered a fight over responsibility. Republicans blamed President Obama while the White House blamed filmmaker Mark Basseley for creating “Innocence of Muslims”, an internet video which fueled outrage in the Middle East. As the 2012 elections end, Basseley finds himself arrested and prosecuted – though not for creating the video which supposedly resulted in the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Mark Basseley had previously been convicted of bank fraud (and identity theft) in 2010. He was shortly paroled though, on condition that he not use any aliases or access the internet without the express permission of his parole officer. A few months later though, Basseley contacted Minister Cindy Garcia and others about making a movie about Egypt called “Desert Warriors.” Basseley, now calling himself Sam Nakoula, purchased a California driver’s license to register himself with the Screen Actors guild to gain creditability. However, after the film was done, Basseley dubbed new lines into the movie and uploaded it onto YouTube as “Innocence of Muslims.”
Cindy Garcia attempted to sue Basseley, but Basseley had gone into hiding, allegedly from Muslims looking to execute him. After the White House spent weeks denouncing the video though, federal agents found Basseley hiding in L.A. After being denied bail, Basseley plead guilty to four counts of using fake names and fraudulently obtaining a state driver’s license in violation of his parole. He was sentenced to a year in prison. Despite prosecution and Judge Snyder’s assurance that the internet video had nothing to do with the proceedings, Basseley still asserts that President Obama was responsible for his arrest.
Basseley is plainly guilty of violating his parole. He used aliases in violation of parole and even obtained a fake driver’s license in order to do so. The terms of his parole were very reasonable given that Basseley’s prior crime was identity thief. His subsequent denial of bail after arrest is arguably justified given his use of fake names and his attempt to hide. Basseley might claim he was hiding from terrorists, but the fact law enforcement had to track him meant he was also hiding from the law.
Basseley is a despicable character, but as an American citizen, he is entitled to his rights under the Constitution. I’m not talking about his freedom of speech, although Basseley is entitled to that. No, the overlooked right at stake is Basseley’s right to criminal due process. It is not unusual for criminals to break their parole terms and the criminal justice system foresees this possibility. If a criminal violates his parole terms, the parole officer is supposed to report the violation to the Parole Commission for additional punishment.
It was unnecessary for the federal judiciary to start a new trial for Basseley’s probation violation when a pre-existing procedure was already in place. The Justice Department will argue that a new trial is necessary of the fact that the breach of parole caused harm to many. However, the government cannot argue about the magnitude of Basseley’s breach if they also deny that the internet video was not an issue at trial. Any harm Basseley caused to Cindy Garcia and other actors in the film can be settled by civil law, not criminal.
The fact politics trumps constitutional rights here is a disservice and an insult to Ambassador Stevens. The ambassador was not only a representative of America, but also America’s ideal that principles come before political clout. In putting Mark Basseley through this show trial, Obama has allowed Ambassador Stevens to die in vain.