06 April 2009

06 April 2009 - Goldstone's twisted idea of justice

Richard Goldston, newly-appointed head of the inquiry into "war crimes" in Operation Cast Lead, reveals why neither he nor his tribunal can be trusted. Fast-forward to 8:12:

Q: What is this sense of justice that moves you?

A: What moves me is the effect that justice has on victims. It's really the victims that are the customers, or should be the customers. They are often forgotten. But justice is for victims, whether it's in domestic ocurts, or whether it's in international courts, it's the victims who need the acknowledgment. And that's what justice gives them. Whether it's prosecutions or truth and reconciliation commissions, it doesn't matter. Victims are craving for the public acknowledgment of their victimhood, what happened to them. And I've seen this time and again in South Africa, and Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, and Kosovo--it's a very important aspect of justice.

There are two fundamental problems here. One is that if justice is for victims, then the outcome of court decisions must depend on who is defined as the victim. This turns justice into a perverse political contest. In the Gaza case, it's clear that Goldstone and his UN colleagues believe that Palestinians are the principal victims and Israelis the main perpetrators. Hence justice is for Palestinians, and punishment for Israelis. The outcome is determined in advance by institutional prejudice.

The second problem is that justice is not only for victims, alleged or otherwise. Justice is for both sides--for the plaintiff and the defendant, for the victim and the accused. In law-abiding countries, criminal courts are particularly concerned with protecting the rights of the defendant. If judicial proceedings were all about victims, we would see many more wrongful convictions, many serious cases turned into show trials. There is a reason that justice is often depicted as blind: courts are meant to be concerned with truth, not with sentiment.

The fact that Goldstone could claim otherwise is reason to question his fitness to serve not only on this tribunal but on any other.


At 1:27 PM, Blogger Redbeard said...

I agree that this way of thinking is rather dangerous. Our desire to achieve justice might be triggered by an awareness of suffering, but this instinctual reaction shouldn't guide public policy. I think it is okay to identify Palestinians as victims as long as we realize that the existence of a victim does not imply the commission of a crime. For instance, I just watched a report on the Onion News Network about a growing number of innocent victims that are falling prey to flying debris.

More importantly, we must realize that even justified and proportional military responses have victims. A dispassionate judge ought to understand that the primary purpose of justice is to protect future victims against unjustified action. Of course, there are some lingering Aristotelians who think that the object of justice is to restore balance to the universe. For the most part they don't really do much harm. But in a conflict like that between Israel and the Palestinians, insisting on laying blame and punishing the other side for every harm experienced in the past will only exacerbate the situation.


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