There’s a saying that “tough cases make for bad laws.” Likewise, I find myself wondering if the very worst people tend to have a similar effect.
Last week, two of the most reprehensible, contemptible, vile child molesters were arrested. One of them, though — Christopher Paul Neil — was arrested in Thailand after he had taken of himself raping young boys and posted them on the internet. He is being charged with violating a Canadian law against “sex tourism” — going abroad to commit sex acts that are illegal in Canada.
I have no problem with Mr. Neil spending the rest of his days behind bars. Indeed, I would even prefer if he were to somehow accidentally fall out of the plane on his trip back to the Great White North. But his case brings up some troubling aspects of our law-enforcement system.
Mr. Neil is being charged in Canada with deeds he committed in Thailand — and, possibly, Viet Nam and Cambodia. Those are sovereign nations, and Canada has no right to impose its laws within their borders. In effect, Canada is saying that its own laws are superior to those of other nations — that the citizenship of the offenders trumps the geographical jurisdiction.
I don’t like this idea. It smacks of the same sort of attitude that I get aggravated over when people from other nations come to the US and insist on bringing elements of their own culture — and demand that their beliefs trump existing laws. One example is when certain religious practices — such as Santeria — conflict with animal-cruelty statutes. Numerous others involve Muslims — such as the infamous taxi drivers who want to declare their cabs subject to the laws of Shariah (no unescorted women, no guide dogs, no alcohol, etc. etc. etc.) and immune to the laws governing public accomodations.
That isn’t the only way the kiddie-diddlers screw over our system. The recidivism rate among pedophiles among the highest for all crimes, so the notion of “locking them up for our protection” is a damned good one. Unfortunately, that runs astray of existing laws and principles. Requiring them to register for the rest of their lives as sex offenders is another one that raises some awkward questions about our legal system, along the lines of “pay your debt to society” and that sort of thing.
And it ain’t just the child molesters that cause problems. Our legal system is designed, largely, for criminals. That’s not a bug, that’s a feature. But when it’s asked to deal with people who are not truly criminals in the classic sense, it tends to stumble.
We see this in the War On Terror. The terrorists we fight — especially the ones who come here to fight us — are technically criminals, as they break laws in the course of their actions. But they are not “criminals” in any way that we’re used to dealing with. Their motives and goals are usually political, and see themselves as warriors and fighters and soldiers. But they don’t abide by the rules that cover those people, either, so — when we capture them — we don’t really have an effective way of dealing with them.
Finally, we have the rarest of exceptions, the heads of state and government officials of nations that we defeat and conquer. The Nazis and Imperial Japanese of World War II were the first that we caught, and we chose to put them on trial. Most were convicted in special courts, and many were executed.
But in more recent times, we’ve ended up holding people that we’re not quite sure what to do with. When we invaded Panama, we brought Manuel Noriega back to the United States and put him on trial in a regular court. This struck me as just a little stupid, and possibly insane. He’d declared war on us, attacked and killed our troops, harassed our civilians, and in general was a pain in the ass who was about to gain control of a critical resurce (the Panama Canal, the giveaway of which was probably the dumbest move Jimmy Carter ever made — but that’s a very tough call, as there is a LOT of competition there).
The capture and trial of Manuel Noriega was a risky thing. What would happen if he was acquitted? Would we have to re-invade Panama and put him back in power? Could he sue for damages? Fortunately, he was convicted and remains in prison to this day.
Likewise, when Saddam Hussein was captured, we might have had to face a similar dilemma. Again, we lucked out and there was enough of a semblance of an Iraqi government by that point to put him on trial — and execute him.
I haven’t come to any firm opinions on this sort of thing, but I’m finding myself more and more in favor of simple, summary executions in times of war. It was what Winston Churchill wanted to do to the Nazi regime, and it has a certain elegance and utility: being a high-enough official in a government that has been defeated and conquered OUGHT to be a de facto capital offense, and in most cases the facts are established long before the end of the war: the losing government did, indeed, commit certain acts, and certain officials were in authority. That should be more than enough “evidence” to justify their killing. As we saw in Saddam’s case, all we end up doing is giving the evil ones one last grand stage to spout their ideology and attempt to sway the world one final time, now as a “victim.”
How would this translate into those who rape and abuse children? I don’t know. They have, in my eyes, forfeited all claims to citizenship and civilization and even basic humanity, but are we really willing to take them up on that? And how do we prevent whatever we concoct from being turned into just another way to punish those who we, as a society, dislike — much like the War on Drugs has perverted large portions of our legal system and the psychiatric profession became an enforcement arm of the government against dissent in the Soviet Union?
Like I said, I don’t know. I don’t like writing pieces where I kick around a problem without offering at least the bare bones of a solution, but it looks like I might have to here.
But if ever there was a need to prove that pedophilia is a crime that victimizes far more than the assaulted children, that it is also a “crime against society” as well, I think this does that in spades.