Sunday, November 06, 2005

Crimes of Omission and Commission 

Just reading the news this afternoon... Yahoo! is reposting an AP story on the prison murder of a "Jewish Defense League activist imprisoned for his role in a plot to bomb a California mosque and the office of a Lebanese-American congressman". The details of the murder itself are relatively mundane and sad as such things go, and apparently the murder was unrelated to Earl Krugel's politics, or it would certainly have been mentioned in the article. In fact, Krugel's wife is quoted as saying that it was political, but related to persons or issues about which Krugel himself apparently was unaware of and uninvolved in. That only makes the prison authorities look worse.

This strikes me as interesting and worth thinking about for another reason, however. First, in the close of the story, JDL spokesman Brett Stone was quoted as saying "It's shocking that's the second member of the Jewish Defense League in three years who has died in federal prison". To the degree that it's shocking that anybody should die an extrajudicial death in prison, that's true. One of the few rights that I think all would agree that prisoners who otherwise follow the rules in prison have is the right to e secure in their lives and persons against injury and death caused by other prisoners. In that, the US Federal department overseeing the prison has some answering to do, and sharp questions should rightly be asked. But why more for this prisoner than for any other?

Let's turn this around a bit. Suppose that the individual at the heart of the story had been a Palestinian member of one of the various paramilitary or terrorist organisations there, rather than a member of a group founded by a Zionist terrorist so loathsome that even the Israeli Government found it necessary to denounce him (Meir David Kahane of the Kach political party and the related Kahane Chai and JDL terrorist organisations).

Suppose, instead, that the individual were not a Zionist terrorist convicted of attempting to bomb a mosque and the office of a United States Congressman opposed to Israeli involvement in American domestic and foreign policy. Suppose that it were instead, a Palestinian Arab who had been convicted of being a member of a terrorist organisation, planning to bomb a synagogue and the office of a Congressman known for his support of Israel's continuing hegemony over American policy?
  • Would there have been an AP news story reporting such a man's death?
  • Would it have been so careful not to condemn the views and actions of the subject of the story?
  • Would Yahoo! or other online news services have reposted the story, increasing its readership and presumed legitimacy?
  • Would the cause for his conviction and imprisonment have been buried in the seventh paragraph, or would it have been the focus of the headline or lede?
  • Would a spokesman for the Palestinian terrorist's organisation have been quoted at all, let alone as favourably as the Zionist terrorist's organisation's spokesman was (see the second para of this item or the end of the AP story)?
In short, does this story continue a trend where readers in general and Americans in particular are being fed a hypocritical, distorted story, where one side's "terrorist" is another side's "activist"? What effect does that have on public sentiment, and public policy?

On the one hand, this is a straightforward, seemingly routine, news story about an unfortunate event - and certainly the failure of any prison system to safeguard the security of the prisoners under its control is unfortunate, at the very least. Krugel had every right to expect that he could exercise safely, that the greatest threat posed to his safety was any injury he might cause himself, or that he might stress or injure himself in a way that any 62-year-old man with limited opportunity for exercise might. Getting whacked on the back of the head with a concrete block over something that you're not even personally involved with is completely outside the pale.

But then again, so is the free exercise of religion, whether it be Judaism, Islam, Christianity or The Cult of the Gazed-Upon Navel. Outside the pale, too, is the act of going to work in the morning, in the office of a man elected by his fellow citizens to represent them in their Government. Yes, Mr Krugel had rights that were not upheld, and that is shameful. But the actual and intended victims of his and other likeminded terrorists' actions - on any side - have rights too, and scant attention is being paid to them in anything approaching an evenhanded manner. That leads to the continuous erosion of more rights, from more people, until those most basic rights, "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness", are lost by all. The media have an obligation - borne out of their unique position in society - not to let that happen. This story, in my opinion, completely abnegates that sacred duty.

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