Thursday, June 01, 2006

For the Love of Justice

The people of Afghanistan and Iraq, and in particular their new governments, are continuing to prove their inability to comprehend basic principles of justice.

In Afghanistan, a truck in an American convoy allegedly suffered break failure. The truck eventually struck a number of civilian vehicles, killing five occupants. This precipitated a riot where the crowd went around hunting for foreigners. It did not matter whether the foreigners had anything to do with the accident or whether there was any evidence against them as individuals. Their crime was being a foreigner in Afghanistan.

In the end, the Afghan rioters murdered approximately 15 people. The Americans killed five people in what could have been an accident, and the Afghan people condemn them. While, at the same time, they participate in riots where 15 people were murdered, without condemnation or criticism.

"Let's see; justice says that we are to condemn those who kill others for what may be an unintentional and unavoidable accident, but praise those who murder the innocent for the crime of having a fair complexion."

There are also reports that the American soldiers fired at the angry mob that had gathered after the accident. Whether they fired in self-defense or malicious harm is not know. What is known is that those who the mob murdered, those who owned the shops that were destroyed, were not those who were guilty of these crimes. Rather, they were victims of people who thought saw no moral objection to doing harm to innocent people.

This suggests that they lack a fundamental understanding of the principles of justice.

Now, the Afghan parliament is demanding that the American soldiers involved in the accident be prosecuted.

Justice says that there should be an investigation. Justice says that a neutral third party should conduct the investigation -- somebody who does not have a vested interest in the outcome. Justice says that it is wrong to give the neutral third party a vested interest in the outcome through bribery or other forms of corruption.

However, the Afghan government is not calling for an investigation. They are calling for prosecution.

This suggests that they lack a fundamental understanding of the principles of justice.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, evidence seems to suggest that a group of Marines went on a killing spree. One of their own members was killed. In retaliation, these Marines went into a series of civilian houses killing every man, woman, and child they could find. They later blamed the deaths on an improvised explosive device, an explanation that their superiors seemed to accept until a video surfaced that showed consequences inconsistent with the marines' original story.

There's not really much of a moral difference between what these Marines did and the rioters in Afghanistan.

There is a significant moral difference in that the Marines will be put on trial and punished if convicted. Plus, they will earn the condemnation and contempt of the American people. Most of them.

I know of no plan to find the rioters who performed murder, put them on trial, and convict them. I hear nothing from the Afghan government saying that these rioters have earned the condemnation of the Afghan people. Perhaps these things have happened and I can find no news of it. Yet, I suspect that the truth of the matter is that only Americans who commit murder are to be condemned, while Afghans and Iraqi murderers are to be praised.

Every day, in Iraq, people are murdered for belonging to the wrong sect of the same religion. These improvised explosive devices, as well as suicide bombers, target civilians more than soldiers. Here, again, men, women, and children are slaughtered. Yet, where is the call that these murderers be brought to trial, convicted, and punished? These Iraqi citizens, who seem indifferent to the indiscriminate murders that their neighbors conduct that seem to kill more than 22 people per day, are only mildly concerned about the murders committed by people other than American soldiers.

Yes, Iraqi citizens also seem to get upset when members of "the other religious sect" commit murder. Sunnis are upset over the acts of Shiite murderers, and Shiites are upset over the acts of Sunni murderers. Yet, they are still willing to forgive their neighbors (those who belong to the same sect).

When are they going to learn that justice means treating Shiite and Sunni murderers alike, and not praising Shiite murderers while condemning Sunni murderers (or the other way around). The real question should never be whether the accused is a Shiite or a Sunni. The real question must be limited to, "Is the accused a murderer or not?"

If 'yes', then Sunni and Shiite murderers should be given equal (proportional and fair) treatment.

Much of the mess in Afghanistan and Iraq comes from their lack of a commitment to these basic principles of justice. In fact, they do not even seem to understand what those principles are. Thus, they live in a society that heaps injustice on top of injustice until the society has nothing solid to stand on.

Perhaps this respect for justice is something that the American occupiers could have taught them -- teaching by example. However, we have the misfortune of being ruled by a cabal whose understanding of the principles of justice are little better than those of the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. They lie to us to manipulate us into supporting a war they want for other reasons, they invade other countries under false pretenses, create secret prisons, kidnap people and hold them without charges or a trial, torture them -- sometimes to death, and they assert that being under attack justifies them in doing these things.

It is difficult for the unjust to teach others to adopt the principles of justice as their standard.

The U.S. hears of a Taliban or Al Queida operative in a building and make plans to bomb it, regardless of the fact that there are civilians and children around. The Iraqi terrorists hear of an American convoy traveling along the road and makes plans to blow it up, showing no consideration for the innocent civilians who are also working and playing along the road. Each side calls the other "barbaric." In this, we are providing valuable lessons in the importance of due process and the other elements of a fair and just society -- and the enemy is following our example.

Here, again, we are teaching by example. We teach the world that the death of civilians while targeting an enemy is of no moral consequence, and we condemn the world for practicing what we preach. It is a bit hypocritical, to say the least.

Ultimately, here is what we need to do.

We need to solidify our respect and demand for the rule of law. We need to insist that only the most extraordinary circumstances will justify violating the principle that no person is to be killed or maimed (or tortured) or imprisoned unless their guilt has been established through a system of “due process.” That system has to involve arrest and trial only under condition of a warrant served upon probable cause, and a trial before a jury that has no stake in how the case turns out. We have to insist on condemning anybody who would kill, maim, or imprison others in violation of these principles except under those extraordinary circumstances.

We can only have peace to the degree that we can make people accept and live by principles such as insisting on due process before doing harm to others. We can only make people accept and live by these principles if we are willing to lead by example.

If we do not insist on the rule of law and the establishment of due process, we can expect an ever-growing cycle of violence and retaliation that shows every sign of leading the whole world down some very unpleasant rodes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You have nailed the symptom, but not the cause, not quite.

To most people, shared nationality/faith/ideology creates a vested interest in the case, thus eliminating neutrality in conflicts between "their people" and "others".

This happens out of fear of generalization and prejudice.
If one of "our people" is proven guilty of a crime, than "others" will see us all as criminals.

But considering "others" prejudice towards us is also prejudice on our part.

So fear of prejudice towards us creates prejudice is us, which causes the prejudice we feared, which justifies our initial fear... And down the spiral we go.

That, I think, is the real problem.