Thursday, May 19, 2011

David Rieff on DSK

In The New Republic (may be behind paywall). He is critical of BHL (but who cares what he says?), Jean Daniel (who is usually worthy of respect), and Robert Badinter (a jurist honored and appreciated in America) for their criticism of the American judicial system, which they manifestly do not understand, and for the implicit suggestion in all of their pieces that DSK deserves special treatment no matter what he may have done, since he is not a defendant like any other. With sadness I must tell my French friends that this kind of argument is repugnant to American ears. We have our flaws (many flaws), but when it comes to criminal charges, the idea that a person's status in the world or past achievements require that he be accorded special privileges is just simply shocking. Jean Daniel concludes that France and America belong to "different civilizations." He may be right, but in my eyes, the difference does not work to France's advantage. And please remember, in the United States I am seen as a fanatical defender of France, practically un-American in my willingness to defend France's right and duty to put her own interests first. So, if you've lost me, France, you've lost nearly all of my compatriots. Sort of like when Lyndon Johnson lost Walter Cronkite and realized he had lost America (toutes proportions gardées). (h/t MT)


Anonymous said...

Art, you should translate this into French, so it reaches those who need to read it.

Jules said...

You should't consider that BHl, Daniels or Badinter's postion represent all the french opinion.

Many french people — might be most — are very critical to this happy few defense of the happy few — which, to my point of view, could also feed the resentment against the media and political gentry.

All of this certainly does not advocate DSK cause in France ; and neither the french legal system.

So, dear Arthur, don't pay attention to those so called arguments.

Bashô said...

I am French and I do not agree with the three French intellectuals. I am standing up for the American Justice with my friends. The DSK's friends cannot speak on behalf of us.

Anonymous said...

Give me a fucking break. As if the American justice system is not designed to afford greater protection to the privileged.

This incident is simply being used as an opportunity to trumpet how much more egalitarian we are - a laughable conceit.

Last Sunday you wrote that "vast generalizations about national characters are usually unwarranted."

Apparently you've changed your mind.

As for Rieff - he's a well known blowhard of the lowest order. I'm not sure why we need to pay him any attention.

Anonymous said...

What is needed is technical discussion on how the U.S. system does not trample on the presumption of innocence . Actually , part of Badinter's anger (other than he is a very close friend of DSK, his wife was a witness at his wedding, a clear conflict rarely mentioned in the French media) is that the French inquisitorial has been under attack , in France, by proponents of a more balanced process where prosecution and defense joust à armes égales. In France, the accused, for the entire duration of the trial, is physically placed in the "box des accusés" , a powerful symbolic indication that the defense is not in equality with the prosecution, and certainly a more egregious violation of the presumption of innocence than the 30 second perp-walk. Lawyers have been trying to change this, one recent improvement is the very recent right to have an attorney during the initial garde à vue (police interrogation) . Its quite remarkable that the debate in France is confined to approximations and bad-faith arguments and that the facts are entirely eluded


brent said...

Philippe and others,
Based on my several experiences as a juror in serious criminal cases, I tried to explain in my bad French on Bernard Girard's blog yesterday why I feel the American system strongly favors the defendant. Caveat: as 'anonymous' suggests, above, no procedural system can filter out the advantage of a wealthy defendant with his high-priced defense team,competing against a publicly funded prosecutor. And it is also true that the defendant's advantages play out much more in the eventual trial phase than in the earlier arraignment and indictment phases, so French people critical of our 'accusatoire' system are seeing at best a partial truth. But the various rights--speedy trial, no self-incrimination, counsel at every step, proof beyond a reasonable doubt, unanimous jury decision, etc.--are in my experiencescrupulously applied, and result in a remarkably fair and open process. Yes, the notorious (New York) practice of the 'perp walk' is a disgrace and should be ruled unconstitutional, but the defendant is almost never allowed to be hand-cuffed or in other ways stigmatized in the courtroom, i.e. in view of the jury. Criminal justice is an inherently messy business, rape cases more than most, and I can see why all this looks like a living nightmare to DSK's supporters. But the criticisms of Badinter, Lang, BHL and others have been ill-informed, loaded with self-interest, and reek of a droit de seigneur that I thought the French had proudly overthrown two centuries ago. Some socialists!

Robert said...

I'm waiting to see how French intellectuals react to: The somewhat paradoxical spectacle of this center-left politician, presumably shelling out millions so attorneys can dig for every little bit of dirt in the plaintiff's life, on the one hand; and said plaintiff, a working-class, black African woman on the other.

That'll teach us a lot about how said intellectuals view race, class and privilege.

meshplate said...

@Robert, Hear, hear!

Mitch Guthman said...

I agree with much of what David Rieff says as a matter of general principle. But I think his exhalation of the egalitarianism of the American justice system as compared to French approach championed (or, more accurately, caricatured) by BHL really misses the mark. Unlike Rieff, when I look at the way the American justice systems treats the rich and famous, I don’t see much difference in the end result. We are both part of the same hypocrisy. The French may rationalize it differently but the end result in both countries is the always the same: special treatment for special people. It’s the American way and always has been.

The history of the rich and famous receiving favored treatment from the law in this country is endless. The examples are countless. Every day, the sports pages of American newspapers feature an outpouring of rape, robbery, brutality and even murder all done with near total impunity. (Can David Rieff deny that those who contribute to a winning tradition have always been treated as “special” and “more valuable”?) The business sections of those newspapers read like a crime blotter. The entertainment industry is a cesspool of violence against women. Every type of criminal depravity may be committed without fear of legal retribution.

Polanski’s case itself exemplifies our hypocrisy. He drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl. What is often forgotten is that the richly deserved punishment that Polanski fled to avoid was, in reality, the merest slap on the wrist----a token punishment arranged as a favor to Polanski by his powerful friends in Hollywood. Polanski fled not because he was being singled out for harsh punishment but because he was unwilling to humble himself even slightly by submitting to the symbolic “punishment” which the big shots felt was necessary on grounds not of justice but of good public relations. As long as he continued to make profitable movies, Polanski would continue to enjoy the protection of the elites and remain free to slake his lust for unwilling little girls without the slightest fear of the law. What says David Rieff about the special treatment received by that “special”, “valuable” person Roman Polanski in our courts?

I could go on but I think I’ve made my point. We are no different from the French in our treatment of “special people”. We are less brazen but also far more hypocritical. To put it another way, we and the French may worship at slightly different altars and our ceremonies are less overtly elitist but it’s still the same dark religion of special rules for special people. To be sure, our rituals, unlike those of the French, dictate that from time to time it is necessary to make a public sacrifice of some celebrity who has outlived his our her usefulness. But Rieff mistakes the spectacle of the throwing to the lions of an occasional celebrity or token rich person for equal justice under the law. It is not equality, merely spectacle.

Cincinna said...

DSK has been indicted by a NY Grand Jury. That means they found enough evidence to find that a crime has been committed, and by a preponderance of the evidence, they believe the evidence warrants that he be charged with the crimes

Mitch Guthman said...

Quelle surprise! It has been famously observed that a grand jury would indict a ham sandwich if the district attorney so instructed.

Cincinna said...

Right about the ham sandwich! But, this indictment was handed up in record time. Not a good sign for DSK.
DSK has been granted bail. $1 million cash + confined to apartment & must wear electronic surveillance bracelet (GPS)tracker) at all times.

meshplate said...

@mitch, telling it like it a kick from your post again.

Cincinna said...

A judge set bail at $1 million,  and approved an elaborate arrangement under which DSK 
would be confined to a private apartment in Manhattan and monitored by armed guards.
Strauss-Kahn will also have to take out a $5 million insurance bond.
  This would usually be a close call for a Judge, but in NYS non- homicide cases, with the advanced GPS monitoring techniques now available, the Judge is usually predisposed towards the Defendant and his presumption of innocence.

Cincinna said...

Your point on Polanski is well taken. He was a coward in choosing a life as a fugitive from justice instead of serving out the very minimal sentence in a minimum security facility. But that was California, a very lenient State compared to NY, and a very long te ago.
As to the rich getting special treatment in NY, look at the cases of Bernie Madoff, Martha Stewart, Michael Millken, and others who were sentenced to serious jail time for their crimes.
All things being said and done, if I were innocent, I would gladly take my chances in front of a NY jury. If I were guilty, not so much.

Arthur Goldhammer said...

I think that those of you who argue that the wealthy and powerful often come out ahead in the American justice system are missing the point entirely. No one in America would argue as a matter of principle that it SHOULD be this way, but in France any number of commentators are insisting, whether they are conscious of it or not, that they think that "special people" should receive "special treatment" as a matter of justice. This PRINCIPLE is shocking even to Americans who are critical of the many biases in our system. The biases are flaws, but they are admitted as flaws when people discuss how things ought to be.

Mitch Guthman said...

@ Arthur Goldhammer,

I take your point and it does have a great deal of emotional resonance for me. I’m just not sure how many moral brownie points we’re entitled to just because we claim to prefer the principle of “equality before the law” when our actual legal system (indeed, our whole society) is a rapidly decaying cesspit of corruption and inequality the like of which hasn’t been seen since the Gilded Age. If the "principle" of "special rules for special people"was really all that shocking to the majority of Americans they wouldn't sit still for a justice system that, in fact, operates on exactly that principle. We don't want to admit it, we're ashamed to admit it, but really "special rules for special people" is the operative principle of our justice system---we're just too ashamed to admit it.

Is there really so much difference between a people who say that there should be “special rules” for “special people” and a people who shrug their shoulders and say that they really wish that the rich and powerful wouldn’t put their greasy thumbs on the scales of justice but if they want to, well there’s not really anything to be done about it. If the result in the American system always and invariably favors the rich and powerful, who’s to say where the moral high-ground can be found? The line between an aspirational nobility that is never acted upon and hypocrisy is a very fine one indeed.

If it were in my power, the words engraved above the entrance to the Supreme Court building would be: “Nobody important ever really pays”.

(For myself, of course, the question we have been discussing---whether the French system described by BHL is better or worse than our own--- is largely moot since I refuse to believe that a reptilian “intellectual”, whose principal contribution to the intellectual life of France has been his ardent defense of an unrepentant child rapist, could possibly speak for anyone outside of a very small band of very twee Parisian Villagers. Much in the same way that Sally Quinn, speaks not for America but only for the Washington Villagers)

Anonymous said...

Let us not confuse a liberally dispersed degradation with an homage to equality.

Anonymous said...

Mitch, I think that the difference between the US and France is that in the US the "non-special" people have at least A CHANCE to present their case.
I read somewhere that a politician (nationally-known conservative, forgot the name but not DSK) had raped a woman, she went to the police, the police called the DA who is a friend with the politician. Not only was the politician never bothered, but he was free to pressure the plaintiff until she dropped the suit and left town.

Arthur Goldhammer said...

Patrick Balkany.