The American justice system's many flaws

The recent media circus surrounding the Strauss-Kahn case only highlights the unfairness of the US justice system, a system that formulates verdicts even before the accused has stepped into a courtroom.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn and his wife in NY 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS)
Dominique Strauss-Kahn and his wife in NY 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Dominique Strauss-Kahn is my good, longtime friend. So is his wife, the fabulous Anne Sinclair. I believe in Dominique’s innocence, and my ardent wish is to see him free, happy, and running for French presidency.
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But even if completely absolved, I am not sure that Strauss-Kahn will ever forget the nightmare he experienced from the moment of his arrest in the greatest democracy on earth. Even before he had stepped into a courtroom, the US declared Strauss-Kahn guilty.
The former head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Strauss-Kahn was handcuffed, detained in a cell for hours, and paraded in front of cameras - his face distraught and haggard – before being sent off to New York’s Rikers Island jail. The police chiefs and the New York District Attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., made bombastic statements to the media, and refused initially to release the “criminal” on bail, before agreeing to do so to the tune of $5 million.
With security guards, electronic cuffs, surveillance cameras, and dramatic statements made to the press by beaming police chiefs and the DA, Strauss-Kahn’s arraignment turned into a media stampede. All the while hotel maids—shepherded over in buses—yelled insults at Strauss-Kahn.
The media circus that unfolded begs the question: Is this the face of the American justice system?
The case all but imploded, and the very same people who humiliated and trampled Strauss Kahn’s elementary rights became defenders of the accused, admitting that they now have reasons to doubt the testimony of his accuser.
Couldn’t they have checked that testimony earlier?
The main factor that led to their change of heart was a telephone conversation the day after the arrest between Strauss-Kahn’s accuser, a Guinean immigrant, and her boyfriend. It took six weeks to retrieve said conversation and translate it from a Guinean dialect into English.
So why did it take so long?
The District Attorney’s office claimed it was due to a lack of translators. Really? Brooklyn—and in particular the neighborhood of the woman concerned—is teeming with immigrants from that part of the world. The phone conversation could easily have been translated the same day.
Is this American justice?
Strangely enough, this appalling abuse of human rights took place just a few days before there was another stunning demonstration of American justice. In Florida, a jury acquitted Casey Anthony - the young woman accused of murdering her daughter.
In spite of the mountains of evidence against Anthony, the jury chose to let her go, triggering another media circus paralleling the dramatic acquittal of O.J. Simpson.
Last but not least, in the last few days, the White House made Sisyphean efforts to prevent the execution of a Mexican-born immigrant, Humberto Leal Garcia, in Texas. The immigrant was convicted of raping and murdering a sixteen-year-old girl in San Antonio in 1994. The White House claimed that Garcia’s execution could stir trouble in the Mexican community in the US, in addition to endangering the lives of Americans abroad. Maybe that’s true. But since when does the White House have the right to defy US judicial institutions - including the Supreme Court? (Last week, Texas executed Garcia in spite of the presidential intervention.)
So is this American justice?
I am strongly opposed to the death penalty. But I also strongly opposed to the idea that politicians have the right to interfere with judicial decisions.
I can only imagine what would happen in this here Land of Milk and Honey if Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had any influence over a judicial verdict. No doubt he would be crucified by public opinion.
We often raise our eyes toward America—the greatest democracy on earth—with admiration and hope. But lately it seems that this great democracy has abandoned many of its noble principles.
The media circus; Strauss-Kahn’s “perp walk” between police officers who seemed to think they were acting in a bad “Law and Order” episode; the absurd verdicts of juries lacking in experience and understanding; the interference of the executive in judicial processes; and last but not least the fact that judges are elected or appointed by politicians, all prove that something is acutely amiss with the American judiciary system.
So over on this side of the ocean we’d do well to stick to our current system in which verdicts are declared by judges and not by novices. A system that respects the basic human rights of the accused, chiefly, the right to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. A system that understands the need for total separation between the executive and judicial branches of government.
And for all of those critics in Israel who rub their hands together in glee as they tear our judicial system to pieces, ask yourselves this: do we really want to risk our justice system for another that may turn out to be closer to American justice?
The writer is a former Labor Party MK and the official biographer of David Ben-Gurion and Shimon Peres.