The full saying is that justice needs to be seen to be done but these days people are quite satisfied with the first part only. Whether it’s actually justice and whether it has been done doesn’t matter. They see it, they feel good about, and that’s all they really want.
Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura famously dreamed about a day when judges would wear vaiṣṇava tilakas and we’ve accepted this as a sort of a prediction that is very desirable. Is it, though? I don’t think in the current atmosphere association with “justice” would do devotees any good, though it’s admittedly better than association with politics. Tulsi Gabbard handles herself very well but she is a first timer with no baggage, politics will eventually get to her – it’s like wrestling with pigs, everybody will get dirty.
Last year I wrote a long analysis of the US Supreme Court decision legalizing same sex marriage, mostly it was about dissenting judges opinions and how they made far more sense than the pro same sex majority. Their arguments, however, have been totally forgotten and everyone talks about that decision as if it was some kind of legal achievement. On that note, a couple of months ago a trio in Brazil sued for legal recognition of their relationship, which is an example confirming “slippery slope” argument advanced by the opposition. Their civil union has already been legalized, next step is getting a full marriage status. It’s the second such case in Brazil, too.
Today I want to talk about a new legal precedent that came to public attention about a week ago – the outcome of the British inquiry into the murder of ex-KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko. The result was a guilty verdict for his two killers, Lugovoi and Kovtun, and “probably guilty” verdict for the Russian president Putin. The first part was a foregone conclusion and the second part made the news worldwide.
It wasn’t actually a trial but an inquiry, or an inquest by an activist judge that gradually got elevated to the inquiry status, and then the inquiry got promoted to determining the causes of death and the guilt of the accused, which is, in effect, a trial, except no trial would have ever been done under conditions used by this inquiry.
The narrative pushed to the public ever since Litvinenko’s murder in 2006 was that Russia refused to cooperate and refused to extradite the accused so no proper trial could have been held, Britain even imposed sanctions on Russia for this refusal. In public view inquiry was as good as it was gonna get and people are perfectly satisfied with the verdict, not thinking twice that punishment is not going to be served. Justice needs to be seen, as I said, the rest doesn’t matter.
So it was all about spin and appearances. I’ve never paid any attention to this case, it was too complicated and learning all the details was unnecessary, but after the result of the inquiry has been published I read a long article taking it apart. The official inquiry site is here and the article is here. I haven’t checked all the claims in the article but so far they simply follow what is included in inquiry’s report.
The story line pushed to the public for nearly a decade is like this – Litvinenko was an ex-KGB spy who threatened to expose some nefarious KGB dealings and his betrayal of his country was unacceptable. To silence him FSB, which is KGB’s successor, sent out two killers to poison Litvinenko with polonium. They slipped it onto Litvinenko’s tea and after about a month he died of a mysterious illness. Eventually polonium poisoning was discovered and following traces of radiation a trail was found leading around London and then onto Moscow. It’s like 007 mission that got busted. The inquiry’s verdict confirmed what the public knew all along, so justice was definitely seen.
What people didn’t notice is that several crucial pieces of this narrative were dismissed by the judge. One finding was that it’s impossible to trace this polonium to the Russian facility and that it IS possible to buy it on the open market, and it’s not very expensive either. Basically, there’s no proof tying this polonium to Russia. Another myth was about Russian non-cooperation – the judge admitted that extraditing the accused is impossible under Russian law, it’s not a matter of government discretion.
Moreover, Russians did offer cooperation but it was deemed unacceptable. They offered to try the accused in Russian courts with evidence supplied by Brits, and there was even a possibility of holding BRITISH court in Russia. Brits decided that it would inconvenience the witnesses and so the option was refused. Under British law it’s possible to interview witnesses via video link but that wasn’t considered. Perhaps the real reason is that a proper trial would fall flat on its face while the inquiry could get away with some outrageous stuff from legal point of view.
The third myth that was quietly buried is Litvinenko’s death-bed statement accusing FSB of poisoning him. It’s what gave the original impetus to the narrative but turned out to be a hoax, it was composed by other person, not by Litvinenko himself, and the person who compiled it admitted that there was no factual basis for this “statement” whatsoever.
But back to inquiry – it’s got capital p “Public” prefix to it and it was touted as an open investigation, a triumph of justice where justice can’t, unfortunately, be enforced. In real life defendants were not present and were not represented, they didn’t bring their own witnesses, didn’t tell their side of the story, and didn’t cross-examine prosecution witnesses. No trial under such conditions would ever be considered as just, but if it only needs to be seen so then repeating words like “public” and “open” does the trick already.
Speaking of open – crucial evidence linking the accused with Russian government was classified and presented only to the judge. Its source and content are unknown and therefore cannot be questioned. One key prosecution witness also remained anonymous and refused to testify in court even though his identity is well known to the defendants. Still, the judge accepted his statement given to the police in another country as unquestionable truth. That would also not fly in a proper trial, so legally calling it an inquiry was a boon to the judge who, incidentally, made his mind up before the inquiry even started. He was the one who pushed for it to prove that he was right. And there was no jury, of course.
Was justice even remotely done in this case? Who cares, it was shown and seen, and that’s enough.
Note that up to this point the circumstances of the case itself have not been mentioned, so far I talked only about preconditions of this inquiry that looked very much like a trial. I might get to the details tomorrow, there are more myths to be dispelled there.
Bottom line – justice system that allows such travesties and prides itself on being one the most fair in the world is no place for a vaiṣṇava. The world is going to hell, we can’t stop it and can’t take responsibility for it. Our service is to pick selected souls who are eligible for surrendering to Kṛṣṇa and chanting the holy name. We can’t save the rest and they have their own demoniac desired to fulfill anyway. They are not going to live under our varṇāśrama and we should probably leave them alone.