November 28, 2009

The Little Dictator

In dictatorships and other totalitarian governments it is common practice to arrest people, conspicuously without  reason, and to threaten and intimidate them. This is done to disavow them of any illusions they may have about possessing civil rights or being entitled to due process of law. The authorities in Perugia, Italy took a page from this Manual for Despots when they charged Amanda Knox’s parents, Edda Mellas and Curt Knox, with felony Defamation of Character for supporting their daughter’s statements about mistreatment during interrogation by the polizei.

This interrogation, as is well known, was conducted without her being allowed either legal counsel or a translator, in a language she barely knew, over long hours until the middle of the night. In an interview with a British newspaper, Edda and Curt said that Amanda was “abused physically and verbally” and that she had told them she was “hit in the back of the head by a police officer with an open hand...” Amanda has since testified to this in court.

Now, after 18 months, an unstated number of unnamed polizei could bear this insult no more, and decided to press these charges the day before the beginning of the defense’s closing arguments. One can question the speed of Italian justice, but it’s timing is impeccable. By throwing this rock into the already muddy waters of the case, they clearly hope to bury coverage of the defense’s closing with yet another groundless accusation by the prosecution.

These obscene charges have several effects. Among them:

First, more lawyers for the family, and yet more legal bills. Guilty or innocent, the crushing burden of legal bills is a punishment not to be underestimated.

Second, if convicted, they face 6 months to 3 years in an Italian prison. It is said that those without prior offenses are unlikely to serve time for this crime, but, clearly, that rule of thumb has no bearing in this case. One need only look at the record of malevolent, vindictive, and dragged out incarceration that has already been inflicted on Amanda to understand this.

Third, having been charged on preposterous grounds simply for speaking the truth and defending their daughter, they are put on notice that any further support will bring risks. It is an attempt to silence opposition.

Fourth, it will make it far more difficult, and dangerous, for Amanda’s parents to visit her in the event that she is unjustly convicted. By simply leaving these charges hanging, as was done in the case of Doug Preston by this same jurisdiction, any visit to Italy will risk arrest and imprisonment. This will have the effect of isolating Amanda even more severely than the 9 months in solitary confinement already demanded by PM Mignini.

This is part of an effort, not merely to convict Amanda, but to destroy her. It is an attempt to inflict cruel and unusual punishment on someone with no history of violence or aggression, and with no plausible evidence or motive to link her to the alleged crime. 

What is the evidence for these charges? Did the polizei abuse Amanda, cuff her, browbeat her, and demand that she make statements that she did not think of herself? That is the beauty of the charge, you see. There is no evidence. Because the prosecution will not release it.

Although the polizei made recordings of every telephone conversation, cell phone call, Skype link, and statement made in this case, they deny that any recording of Amanda’s interrogation exists. One can imagine them saying, “Her interrogation! What an oversight! I suppose we should have spent a few Lira to record.” It is absolutely not credible that no recording was made. It is absolutely not believable that it does not exist, and it is clear that the reason they have refused to release it is because it supports Amanda’s testimony, and not the prosecution’s statements.

Withholding this evidence leaves only Amanda’s word against the word of the unnumbered and unnamed polizei.

Frankly, I believe Amanda. How about you?