Sunday, May 22, 2011

On the Strauss-Kahn case

In the corner of this Time cover, you'll see in tiny black print that this story is about the accused bomber Timothy McVeigh - published as it was prior to his trial and subsequent execution.

That the crimes which Strauss-Kahn has been accused of bear no comparison to this goes without saying but I'm using it because I don't believe for a minute that the 'discomfort' that so many people have told us they're feeling in relation to the indictment of Strauss-Kahn have much to do with a general discomfort with the experience of suspects and their treatment by the media or the American criminal justice system prior to a criminal prosecution.

It is difficult to avoid the impression that it is the position that Strauss-Kahn occupied in the French hierarchy and in world politics when this allegation was made that is the source of all this 'unease'. Henri Bernard-Levi has made himself ridiculous in the eyes of many, but he has done so by merely expressing what I suspect a number of people really feel:
"This morning, I hold it against the American judge who, by delivering him to the crowd of photo hounds, pretended to take him for a subject of justice like any other. [Emphasis mine]"
Imagine doing such a thing! Regardless of the outcome of this case, it's worth considering the possibility that this represents a kind of progress? I feel the need to share this because I've read a fair bit about the case and have been struck by the sheer scale of 'unease' out there. It hasn't quite reached Bin Laden proportions - but still... A friend of mine put it to me this way. Say what you like about liberal-democratic capitalism; is there, or has there ever been, any other system where the word of a chambermaid would have been taken seriously in a case like this? Or, one could add, where a chambermaid would have even dared? I'll leave you with Lord Acton's most famous phrase - with the interesting bits left in...:
"I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption, it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. All power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or certainty of corruption by full authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. [Emphasis mine]

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