Monday, March 2, 2009

A really bad international legal development

The 11 judges of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon were sworn in yesterday.
Who are they, you ask?
Can't say.
In what has to be among the more backward developments of the current proliferation of internationalized forums for criminal adjudication, these judges' "identities are being kept secret for their safety." So went CNN's uncritical account of the event.
Marlise Simons of The New York Times didn't even bother to remark on her failure to name the judges, though she did volunteer that "only four" are Lebanese. Simons then proceeded to describe what she deemed "an impressive arsenal of security devices, with an extra focus on forestalling car bombs," to be found at the Hague-area headquarters (below left; credit) of this new tribunal (prior posts). She told much of her story through "[l]awyers familiar with the court" who "requested anonymity because of the court’s rules" -- whatever that means.
Transparency and publicity are cornerstones of contemporary norms of criminal procedure, and for good reason. Experience -- ranging from the Star Chamber of 17th C. England to the "Faceless Courts" of 20th C. Latin America to the post-9/11 policies of 21st C. United States -- reveals that secrecy invites arbitrary behavior and unfair proceedings.
► On what ground does Special Tribunal for Lebanon go forward in robes of anonymity?
► Why is it that the judges' names are secret when the prosecutor's is not?
► What does its apparent fear of identification portend for the ability of this bench to presume the innocence of any suspect brought before it?
► How can affected communities evaluate the work of this tribunal if they must glimpse it through veils of unnamed sources?
No doubt some will respond that such precautions are necessary, that this tribunal cannot go forward any other way. Such a response begs yet another question:
► Is sending in the lawyers the right way to address insecurity in post-Hariri Lebanon?

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