Somewhere at the heart of United States assumptions about “justice” and “fairness” lives a bloody big elephant.
The size of that elephant can be gauged, perhaps by a number of highly inconvenient facts: the apparent US sentiment that no-one else in the world has a right to try US citizens for criminality; a continuing assertion that the US does have the contrary right – to reach out and prosecute anyone anywhere that takes its fancy.
Worst of all is the slapped wrist syndrome, whereby individuals responsible for crimes that would attract severe penalties elsewhere in the world are let off with little more than a light reprimand in the States.
Compare and contrast
Amongst recent extraditions or requests for same to the US, we have:
- the Nat West three, extradited for financial impropriety
- Richard O’Dwyer, accused of copyright infringement
- Christopher Tappin extradited on a charge – allegedly itself the result of an FBI sting – of selling specialised batteries for military use to Iran
- Gary McKinnon, on charges of hacking
Meanwhile, President Kharzai of Afghanistan may fume as much as he wishes: the US has removed Staff Sergeant Robert Bales to their jurisdiction – and the case is now wending its way through the US court system. Bales, lest we forget, is alleged to have killed some 16 Afghan citizens earlier this month – 9 children, four men, three women.
One law for THEM
Oh, but this is Afghanistan, I hear you say. How could us civilized westerners expect justice THERE.
Except this approach to justice is par for the course, with most US overseas bases backed by treaties that ensure US military personnel are never subject to local justice. As in Okinawa in 1995, and the abduction and rape of a local schoolgirl by two US Marines and a sailor.
Allow Japan to apply its system of justice? No way!
But no matter: we all no just how tough US justice can be. I mean: all those crims on death row…
Not exactly. For that appears not to be the case for crimes committed on “natives” by the US military. Roll back (those of a certain age will remember this) to My Lai, Vietnam. 1968. The massacre of just short of 350 unarmed civilians by US forces!
A special investigation suggested between 30 and 60 individuals could have been subject to prosecution: a handful were; and in the end just one, William Calley, was convicted.
He was sentenced to life in prison, later reduced to 10 years: in September 1974 his conviction was overturned and he was released.
And the penalty for any individual massacring 350 unarmed US cvivilians? I suspect war would follow!
From the sublime to the ridiculous
As if to underscore the double standard going on here, a story breaks of how two US citizens, on a gay cruise around the Caribbean, have just been arrested for having sex in public in the Dominican Republic.
Bad law. Very bad homophobic law – and I wouldn’t endorse it for a moment.
Except, except, except…I won’t travel to Saudi Arabia – or any number of African and Middle Eastern states – because I am well aware that their attitude to women, gay and trans individuals sucks. Worse: could be terminal.
For similar reasons, I won’t be visiting Tennessee any time soon.
I’ll happily campaign for change in both those states.
But what I won’t do, as some US commenters on the Dominican incident have done, is start fulminating about how outrageous it is for the authorities of another country to attempt to apply their laws on their territory to OUR citizens. That’s elitist. Paternalistic. Disrespectful.
In the end, it propagates little but disrespect for the country advocating that view.