Friday, July 1, 2011

Some Thoughts on Wilful Injustice

Today, the case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the IMK, took an extraordinary nose-dive.

Strauss-Kahn (or, as many call him, DSK) was arrested by the police on May 14th of this year on the suspicion of having sexually assaulted a cleaning-woman in a hotel suite in New York.

Shortly after, he was paraded before the judge in an unshaved, handcuffed state; his bail was set at a total of $ 6 million; and he was required to wear an ankle bracelet and remain in a New York apartment under guard (the costs of which he had to pay for himself).

Today, however, the bail conditions were suddenly waived. Strauss-Kahn was released on his own recognisance, which means that he need only promise to appear in court at further hearings. The bail was dropped; the bracelet is gone; the guard dismissed. One thing remaining: his passport will stay in police hands, for now, so he cannot leave the USA.

All this was brought about by the serious doubts the prosecution now has regarding the credibility of the accusations of the cleaning-woman, who is a 32 year old woman from Guinea.

In a letter sent by the prosecutors to the defense lawyers, the prosecutors explain their change of heart. This, according to The New York Times, was what the prosecutors have learned:

"The housekeeper admitted to prosecutors that she lied about what happened after the episode on the 28th floor of the hotel. She had initially said that after being attacked, she had waited in a hallway until Mr. Strauss-Kahn left the room; she now admits that after the episode, she cleaned a nearby room, then returned to Mr. Strauss-Kahn's suite to clean there. Only after that did she report to her supervisor that she had been attacked.

Prosecutors disclosed that the woman had admitted lying in her application for asylum from Guinea; according to the letter, she "fabricated the statement with the assistance of a male who provided her with a cassette recording" that she memorized. She also said that her claim that she had been the victim of a gang rape in Guinea was also a lie.

The woman also acknowledged that she had misrepresented her income to qualify for her housing, and had declared a friend's child - in addition to her own daughter - as a dependent on tax returns to increase her tax refund."

Furthermore, The Times notes, there seem to be issues not addressed in the letter:

"According to two law enforcement officials familiar with the prosecutors' inquiry, the woman had a phone conversation with an incarcerated man within a day of her encounter with Mr. Strauss-Kahn in which she discussed the possible benefits of pursuing the charges against him. The conversation was recorded.

That man, the investigators learned, had been arrested on charges of possessing 400 pounds of marijuana. He is among a number of individuals who made multiple cash deposits, totaling around $100,000, into the woman's bank account over the last two years. The deposits were made in Arizona, Georgia, New York and Pennsylvania.

The investigators also learned that she was paying hundreds of dollars every month in phone charges to five companies. The woman had insisted she had only one phone and said she knew nothing about the deposits except that they were made by a man she described as her fiancé and his friends."

In other words, taking all this in and coming up with a simple (if, at the time, still somewhat premature) conclusion, it seems that the cleaning woman might well turn out to be a fraud. As for Strauss-Kahn, well, whatever the exact context might be, he did have sex with her, which is morally rather questionable and surely very, very stupid, but it now seems quite possible that his digressions may have ended there.

In the meantime, however, he is a ruined man. He has lost his position in the IMF; his chances of running for president of France are all but gone (in spite of the curious fact that, just for the moment, the current events seem to have actually increased his popularity amongst Les Bleus).

Now why am I bringing this up?

It's simple: I find it interesting how, time and time again, those that support Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito bring up the notion that the Italian judicial system is clearly flawed, or corrupt, or in some other way just downright untrustworthy. They point to the "fact" that the Italian prosecutors "clearly" had branded Amanda and Raffaele as guilty "without any evidence at all". And then they seem, time and again, to infer that such a thing could really only happen in a country such as Italy, and that anything prosecutors or judges say over there really can't be taken at all seriously. It would certainly never, ever happen in the USA, they seem to imply.

But in a way. the DSK episode proves them quite wrong. Quite a few of the things considered to be so odd and unsavoury in the Italian legal system have just been evinced by the prosecutors in New York, And whilst one may argue that the prosecutors in this case recanted, so to speak, relatively quickly, it should be remembered that the damage was already done and that it is irreparable. 

One of the problems of law is the problem of likeabilty. Prosecutors want - and need - to be liked by the public. Judges find it necessary to be at the very least respected by that public. As a result, there is a constant force at work, a force that threatens to suck both groups away from what it is that they should actually be focusing on, that pulls them towards the the uncertain miasma of the ever-changeable popular opinion.

This is true, no doubt, for the Italian judiciary. And it is certainly true, as has been shown here, of the American one.


A postscript:

On The Daily Beast, a chap called Bernard-Henri Lévi posted an article. In it, he states that "The Strauss-Kahn affair is not over." For it to be over, he continues, Strauss-Kahn "must be granted not only his freedom, but—even more importantly—restoration of his honor."

Restoration of honour? The guy had questionable sex with a Guinean cleaning-woman half his age in a hotel room on a whim. He may have attacked her to get what he wanted; he may not and just have exploited an opportunity. But for God's sake, what honour do you want restored?

Who's this Lévi, you might ask? Well, he's a philosopher.

Sometimes life just wants to make you laugh, I guess.

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