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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Friday, December 26, 2008

How To Prosecute a Shoe-Thrower

Muntadar al-Zaida, the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at George W. Bush, will stand trial Dec. 31, the BBC reported Monday. He's being charged with "aggression against a foreign head of state," which carries a prison term of between five and 15 years. If a reporter here in the United States flung his footwear at, say, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, would he do time?

This editorial page has been uncompromising in its criticism of the Bush administration's flouting of international and domestic law. The administration was wrong to evade courts in seeking warrantless surveillance of Americans, wrong to establish the Guantanamo Bay detention center, heinous in its acceptance of torture. But we are wary of either the criminal prosecution of administration officials or some South-Africa-style process.

The former model is reminiscent of the Watergate scandal, in which several officials -- including President Nixon -- broke identifiable criminal statutes by obstructing the investigation of a burglary motivated by partisan politics. From there, of course, Watergate expanded into a web of criminal violations, from break-ins to the use of the IRS to punish political enemies of the Nixon White House. It's conceivable that individuals in the Bush administration violated criminal law. But if they did so as part of a post- 9/11 response to terrorism, it would be all but impossible to prosecute them successfully.

Besides, the scandal of the Bush administration wasn't a matter of individual, politically motivated violations of law. Rather, it was a systemic failure to take seriously the spirit as well as the letter of this country's commitment to the humane treatment of prisoners or the privacy rights of Americans secured by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.
That's a failure in which Congress must share culpability with the administration. It was the administration that, with the help of compliant legal counsel, rationalized the use of "enhanced" interrogation techniques such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation, humiliation and the use of dogs to intimidate prisoners of war and suspected terrorists. But, as the vice president argued recently, Congress at first either acquiesced in, or offered muted objections to, the administration's policies. That the failures were collective rather than individual makes them no less appalling, but it does suggest that a criminal prosecution will not remedy them. [Mark Godsey]
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Comments

I am from a country that was once colonised by the British. I am aware that the custom of the country came to be coded law.

To throw a shoe or a broom (in asia the broom is a bunch of dried palm leaves tied together)at a bully is meant to insult and humiliate. Not meant to cause physical injury, so the bully has to see the object coming at him.

A woman's action of holding out her plait and waving it at the village bully in the presence of the village elders is symbolic. That she has "blown her pubic hair into the face of the bully". What can the bully do? Kill her at most. But it will not remove the humiliation. The bully experiences the same helplessness that he has brought about to others by his power and arrogance.

Posted by: Joe | Jan 6, 2009 5:04:16 AM

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