Wednesday, March 28, 2007

On trials

Thinking about the Hicks case I saw resemblances to the problem of trials at war. In a time of war, hot or cold, people can be put on trial for notably ill-defined offences. In Australia two examples are the IWW trials of the First World War, in which IWW members were arson attacks in Sydney. Described in Ian Turner's Sydney's Burning. Those convicted were eventually released following a Royal Commission that highlighted prosecution reliance on perjured witnesses. Some of the convictions particularly those of Donald Grant came close to convicting on the basis of verbal statements alone. The Rosenberg trial has some similarities; they were tried for conspiracy to commit espionage but effectively convicted for treason for giving away the secret of the atomic bomb this responsible said the trial judge for the deaths of the Korean War. Now Hicks faces the danger of being sentenced for September 11. Ominously judges in espionage cases in the early 1950s sometimes imposed harsher sentences than those that even the prosecution asked for. On the other side the 1944 sedition trial of former members of the German-American Bund, which in some aspects as Richard Gid Powers argues presaged the post-war trials of the left. The Australian First case during World War two also. The extreme example of such political trials was Soviet show trials, conducted according to the Stalinist principle of politics as war (like the US military commissions) which relied on the confessions of the accused. On one hand these were macabre farces but they reflected a belief, sincerely held I think by their organisers that the accused were up to something, or potentially up to something or potentially thinking about it. There is a recollection of a Menshevik victim recalling a former Bolshevik friend saying this in the early 1930s in Libebich's From the Other Shore. Confessions are dubious. Richard Posner, I think in Breaking the Deadlock comments that if a conservative who has been mugged, a liberal might be a conservative who has been arrested. Consider the fate of Martha Stewart.

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