Crime and Punishment

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The accused has confessed; now John Davis ’81 is working on the penalty.

by John Syme

Six weeks after Scott Prince’s visit to Davidson, the college newsroom phone rang with a fact-checking call from New York Times reporter Benjamin Weiser, who covers terrorism. The next day, Jan. 12, Weiser’s article “Top Terror Prosecutor Settles Into a Familiar Role” noted that John S. Davis ’81 will be the Virginia prosecutor on the 9/11 hijacking trial of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in New York, likely partnering with David Raskin, an assistant United States attorney in Manhattan. Of Davis, Weiser wrote:

The Virginia prosecutor who will be a partner on the case is John Davis, a Harvard Law graduate who helped win the 2002 conviction of John Walker Lindh for aiding the Taliban.

Neither man nor their offices would comment on their roles, but in recent months, each has quietly left a key post—Mr. Raskin as chief of the terrorism unit in Manhattan and Mr. Davis, for now as chief of his office’s criminal division—to focus full time on the 9/11 matter.

It will take their full attention. The trials come amid a storm of criticism and protest over the decision to bring the cases into federal court.

But those who know Mr. Raskin and Mr.Davis say the men’s experience and temperament make them a good fit for the case.

“They’ve each got a very strong compass and a very even keel,” said David N. Kelley, a former United States attorney in Manhattan who led the government’s 9/11 investigation, in which Mr. Raskin also participated extensively. Mr. Kelley worked with Mr. Davis on the Lindh case.

Mr. Davis, 51, a soft-spoken philosophy major from Davidson College, also served as an associate deputy attorney general from 2004 to 2006. His assignments included overseeing the creation of the special Iraq war crimes tribunal that tried Saddam Hussein and other regime leaders.

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  1. Chad Diamond on

    I was troubled by the subtitle of this piece, which reads, in relevant part: “The accused has confessed…” I believe that it is inaccurate and misleading to say that Mr. Mohammed has “confessed,” given that the “confession” was almost certainly the product of his torture at the hands of the U.S. government, as noted by Mr. Prince in the article immediately preceding. It is abhorrent for us as a people to torture a man, then proclaim that he has “confessed.” Under federal law, a coerced confession is invalid. Whether the procedural safeguards of the Constitution apply to Mr. Mohammed is a separate question, but the fact remains that his illegal torture renders his “confession” extremely suspect.