No, no, no.

A quick hit on the case of Ahmed Ghailani, the accused terrorist who was tried in civilian court for the bombing of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.  Charged with 281 counts of murder and conspiracy, Ghailani was convicted on only a single count of conspiracy, because the judge ruled that certain testimony was inadmissible on the grounds that it was obtained through the use of torture.

The conservatives are making hay of this. Ed Morrissey at HotAir:

The failure of Holder’s DoJ to win anything more than a single conspiracy count against Ghailani as a result of using a process designed for domestic criminals than wartime enemies shows that the critics had it right all along.  It also shows that both Obama and Holder have been proven spectacularly wrong, since a man who confessed to the murder of over two hundred people will now face as little as 20 years, with a big chunk of whatever sentence Foopie receives being reduced by time already served.

And on the Left, Glenn Greenwald at Salon:

But the most important point here is that one either believes in the American system of justice or one does not.  When a reviled defendant is acquitted in court, and torture-obtained evidence is excluded, that isn’t proof that the justice system is broken; it’s proof that it works.  A “justice system” which guarantees convictions — or which allows the Government to rely on evidence extracted from torture — isn’t a justice system at all, by definition.

They’re both right.

A justice system, if it makes any pretense at all at justice, is predicated on protecting individual rights–including the rights of the accused.  If the evidence was inadmissible (and it likely would have been inadmissible in a military tribunal as well), then it was inadmissible.

However…

Civil justice is simply not the right forum in which to deal with international terrorism. The administration has already admitted that regardless of the outcome of the trial it has the right and the will to hold Ghailani indefinitely anyway.

A justice system, if it makes any pretense at all at justice, is predicated on the idea that the results of trials matter.

The one point on which both Morrissey and Greenwald agree is that this whole exercise was nothing more than a show trial. It was a farce masquerading as principle. Money, time, energy wasted on a mock trial whose outcome simply doesn’t matter.

But we knew all this already. When the Obama administration announced that they would seek civilian trials for some of the Guantanamo detainees, but not all, it made the tacit admission that the trials were being conducted for political purposes only.  When it further announced that it would continue to hold the defendants, even if acquitted, as enemy-combatants, it ceded the entirety of the argument to the opposition.  The administration has admitted that these men are enemy combatants, but will, in an attempt to mollify a particularly vocal group of political partisans, hold show trials and make a pretense of justice.

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Virtual Law

From Eugene Volokh at, well… at Volokh.com

A Dutch court has convicted two youths of theft for stealing virtual items in a computer game and sentenced them to community service….

The Leeuwarden District Court says the culprits, 15 and 14 years old, coerced a 13-year-old boy into transferring a “virtual amulet and a virtual mask” from the online adventure game RuneScape to their game accounts.

“These virtual goods are goods (under Dutch law), so this is theft,” the court said Tuesday in a summary of its ruling….

Now this might sound odd — why should the legal system police “virtual theft,” especially since the ability to steal, defraud, and the like within a game may be an important part of the game? But things become much clearer when one reads the longer story, from Radio Netherlands Worldwide:

The culprits, who cannot be named due to their age, kicked, hit and threatened their classmate with a knife before the 13-year-old gave in and transferred the Runescape items, an amulet and a mask, to his attackers’ online accounts.

He makes the point that in this case real harm was done and so the ruling isn’t really all that surprising or notable. But he also says, “I continue to think that generally speaking the law shouldn’t prohibit purely in-game “theft,” “murder,” “rape,” and so on.”

I wonder.

Virtual economies are growing ever larger and more influential. The exchange rate for World of Warcraft gold (based on some admittedly back of the envelope calculations) is somewhere around 2.8 cents per gold piece, which means that one WoW gold is equal to about half a Yen.

At that rate of exchange, it’s common to find virtual items with significant real-world exchange value. If in-game theft or fraud robs a person of significant real-world value, I’m not sure that should exist outside the scope of law. Right now, the issue is complicated by terms-of-service agreements that generally prohibit selling virtual items for real cash, but such restrictions are not universal. At some point (sooner than later, I think), virtual fraud and virtual theft will rise to a level of actual harm that will be impossible for real-world law to ignore. I think the question of jurisdiction will be particularly interesting, as will be the development of virtual courts and virtual arbitration.

The largest virtual game worlds make for fascinating social laboratories. Since the worlds are essentially completely planned economies under the control of autocratic rulers with god-like powers, it’s especially fun to watch them struggle with the classic problems of a managed economy, like inflation. Friedrich Hayek would have loved World of Warcraft.

He’d have been a Gnome Tinker, of course.

Also, check out The Synthetic Worlds Initiative at Indiana University.