Justice in Bangladesh
In Bangladesh, as in Guatemala* earlier this year, the government is seeking to bring to justice individuals involved in war crimes decades ago. It is proving to be an enormously complicated process and a source of some discouragement for international observers interested in the cause of justice and the fight against genocide.
Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal is charged with investigating and prosecuting individuals suspected of war crimes during the country’s war for independence from Pakistan in 1971. During that conflict, intellectuals and religious minorities were targeted by members of the Pakistani Army and local militias. Human rights groups estimate that between 300,000 and three million people were killed, including large numbers of Bengali civilians. For years the people of Bangladesh called upon the government to prosecute these crimes. Finally, in 2009, a new government established the war tribunal, which this year handed down sentences to several prominent figures, including Ghulam Azam, the former head of the Islamist party, who now faces 90 years in prison. Azam was allied with Pakistani forces during the liberation war.
International observers are troubled by the court’s proceedings. Defense counsel has not been given proper time to prepare, and the number of defense witnesses has been restricted. The government has also sought to limit public discussion of the case. Some of these actions may be political in nature: Azam and other defendants are allied with Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamist group allied with the country’s principal opposition party.
After the delay of four decades, the hunger for justice in Bangladesh is understandable. Yet the apparent rush to judgment now could undermine the country’s long-term stability. War tribunals must be conducted with the utmost care and fairness lest they fuel further division. The failure of these proceedings could deter other countries from undertaking similar investigations.
* CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly named the country also currently investigating war crimes. The correct country is Guatemala.
An unexpected word has entered the political discourse this summer: forgiveness. Three politicians who resigned amid revelations of sexual misconduct are seeking to return to public office. One of them, Anthony Weiner, may be forced to withdraw from the race for mayor of New York City because of a new round of revelations. Like Eliot Spitzer, who is running for the office of comptroller of New York City, and Mark Sanford, the former governor of South Carolina who recently won a special election to Congress, Mr. Weiner is hoping the public will absolve him of his past sexual indiscretions.
Questions remain about the legitimacy of Mr. Weiner’s candidacy. Unlike Mr. Spitzer, he did not break any laws, but Mr. Weiner’s erratic behavior may cost him his shot at becoming mayor. Whatever happens, the political aspirations of the three disgraced politicians present a serious challenge. What should a voter do? Do contrite politicians deserve a second chance?
These questions can cause some dissonance for the believer. On the one hand, a Christian should not turn away a person who is repentant. Yet the process of reconciliation is largely personal and ill-suited to the political stage. The best course is to focus on the candidate’s qualifications. In some cases his past failures may be relevant; in other cases not. Voters should decline to participate in a morality play that forces politicians and their families to endure public humiliation for sins that are as old as humankind. Politicians should also be wary of taking part in this drama. They can begin by asking voters to judge them on their records, and leave questions of forgiveness to the more intimate realms of family and faith.
She Spoke Her Mind
Everyone in public life has experienced the long meeting where the boss drones on but refuses to come to grips with what everyone knows is the real problem. No one has the guts to ask, “Why?” Rather they cringe: Why make trouble? That man controls my salary.
The American public can be grateful that Helen Thomas, who died on July 20 at 92, was proud to be a troublemaker. The journalist’s role, she taught a younger generation of women reporters, says The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty, is to “disrupt the peace.”
From her high school newspaper days in Detroit to her years with United Press International and the Hearst News Service, including 50 years as the White House correspondent, she created a persona not everyone liked but many respected. Jacqueline Kennedy considered her a “harpy” and tried to have her transferred. Instead UPI promoted her, and she was in the White House when the Watergate story broke. She was admitted to predominantly men’s clubs, like the White House Correspondents’ Association and the Gridiron Club, and the correspondents elected her their president. Meanwhile, U.S. presidents prepared themselves for that woman in the front row who usually got to ask the first and last questions.