Thursday, November 5, 2015

Blasts from the Past

As I mentioned before, I've been posting over at Fault Lines, a really terrific group blawg written by an ever expanding stable of lawyers with at least somewhat different perspectives.

The down side, from my point of view, is that it's more serious than this blog.  I try to proofread.  I'm less profane (but it's me, so I'm still NSFW if your W is easily offended, and if so, fuck 'em).  And it's more like work than the play that this thing is.  The other downside is that I'm writing much less over here.

Anyway, go to Fault Lines and read my stuff.  And the other folks, too.

But before you do, a reminder that William Faulkner knew what he was talking about in Requiem for a Nun
The past is never dead. It's not even past.
The reminder comes from Germany where, as Melissa Eddy reports in the Times,
A German court has determined that a 93-year-old man who served as an SS sergeant at the Auschwitz death camp is fit to stand trial on charges of accessory to the murder of at least 170,000 people during his tenure there.
That comes on the heels of 94-year-old Oskar Gröning being found guilty of complicity in the murder of 300,000 Hungarian Jews at Auschwitz.

Frankly, it's not altogether clear what the point is.  

I mean, at 93 and 94, neither of these folks can be held fully accountable for hundreds of thousands of deaths.  Germany has no death penalty, so the most they can get is life in prison - which isn't likely to be long.  And even if there were an available death penalty, there's surely no equivalence.  And of course executing men who would shortly die anyway (if they even could be executed before they died of natural causes).

There is, of course, another sort of accountability in the form of a verdict.  Even at this remove, after all these years, those officers of the SS cannot escape responsibility for the enormity.  The public identification of the monster. 
To name is to shame.  And that's something.

We do it here, too.  We do it for ordinary murder, which has no statute of limitations.  But we do it with special attention for our special evils.  It was 2001 and 2002 when Thomas Blanton and Bobby Cherry were finally tried, convicted, and sentenced to prison for life for bombing the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama that Sunday morning in 1963 and killing Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Addie Mae Collins.  Our monsters.  Our enormity.

The alternative (other than just sweeping it under the rug, the past is over, let it lie - as Obama said about those who kidnapped and tortured in our names at Gitmo and elsewhere around the world) is the South African model, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  Which is about accepting responsibility, about learning from the past, about some form of redemption.  Can't speak for the Germans, but we're not much fond of learning and redemption here.  Rather, we've got Nebraska spending tens of thousands of dollars to try (unsuccessfully, to date) to import drugs from overseas so that they can carry out executions after the legislature overrode the governor's veto of abolition.  Oh, sure, it's on the ballot.  But still.

Ohio, too.  We've executed a whole lot more folks than Nebraska, but none since the botched killing of Dennis McGuire almost two years ago.  And we're making desperate efforts to get the drugs to start killing again - in another 14 months.  Because it's vital that we kill those people.  Lest they . . . . Well, lest they don't get killed by us.


As I said, I don't pretend to know the collective German psyche on these things.  The Holocaust was, after all, something of a national effort.  The nation gets to find its own way.

But whatever they end up doing to that 93-year-old SS sergeant from Auschwitz charged with the deaths of 170,000 - there's one immediate thing worth observing and, frankly, emulating.

Unlike 94-year-old Oskar Gröning, this guy has not yet been convicted.  He is, until that should happen, innocent.  Which apparently means that we don't get to burn down his house just yet.  We know Oskar Gröning's name not because he was accused but because he was convicted.  The 93-year-old defendant?  He's Reinhold H.  Eddy reports that 
[his] full name was not released for reasons of privacy.
Here it's different.  We conceal the names of alleged victims - even if they turn out to have fabricated their victimhood, we conceal their identity.  But the accused?  We out them with abandon.  After all, if they're accused they must be guilty.

Makes you proud to be an American.

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