Sunday, April 07, 2013

The Scapegoat With a Thousand Faces: Musings on Justice, Memory, Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito.

NOTE:  the article below discusses how a former Nazi guard became a scapegoat for Holocaust crimes committed by one Ivan the Terrible.  My use of this guard, one John Demjanjuk, as an example, does not imply any sympathy for Nazis, nor any belief in Holocaust denial.  I am a strong supporter of Israel.  Do not read more into the discussion than is intended.


One of the best books I ever read on criminal justice was "Witness for the Defense" by Elizabeth Loftus.  She explains quite convincingly how memory can be polluted and distorted, and how eyewitness testimony is often suspect in any criminal trial.  Victims of a crime are often asked to view mugshots and later, line-ups of suspects to see if they can identify the perpetrator.  They see a face that looks entirely familiar, and finger that  suspect as the perpetrator.  Except that the suspect is not the perpetrator.  The witness has found the suspect's face very familiar because she first saw it when viewing mugshots.

Another aspect of Loftus's writing is the scapegoat phenomenon.  People who have been victimized by criminals desire revenge.  I don't blame them, it is a very natural reaction to losing a loved one to murder, or from enduring pain and suffering.  However, we must understand the scapegoat phenomenon:  people desirous of revenge will often settle for a scapegoat, the punishment of someone who acts as proxy for the real criminal.  Victims need someone to blame, and it matters not that their target for hatred is innocent.  Scapegoats are borne of a strong psychological need to believe in their guilt, regardless of facts or evidence.

As a member of Sons of Confederate Veterans, I have long been interested in the American Civil War.  I became interested in the story of Andersonville Prison and its Confederate commander, Major Henry Wirz.  Wirz was arrested after the surrender of the Confederacy, given a sham trial by a military tribunal and hanged for crimes against humanity.  However, he was innocent, a mere scapegoat for the Northern conquerors.  I base this largely on the writings of people who were there, especially a Northern Lieutenant, one James Madison Page, who was a prisoner of war in Andersonville.  In his book, The True Story of Andersonville Prison, he wrote that Wirz was merely a scapegoat who was used "to draw the Northern rath to satiety."  No one cared if Wirz was actually guilty or not.  The grieving families of soldiers who died there needed closure, and the framing and execution of Wirz supplied that.  It also served to direct blame away from the Lincoln Administration, who could have saved many of the POWs but considered them expendable.

Loftus also discussed the trial in Israel of Ivan (John) Demjanjuk, a former Nazi prison camp guard who was accused of mass-murdering Nazi, Ivan the Terrible.   Demjanjuk immigrated to America after World War II, lived a quiet life as an auto worker, until accused by Nazi hunters of being Ivan the Terrible. When so accused, the USA stripped him of his citizenship and extradited him to stand trial in Israel.  Demjanjuk was not "Ivan the Terrible" and the evidence did not support this belief.  However, the Israelis wanted a scapegoat for the Holocaust crimes and Demjanjuk would do.  His Israeli defense attorneys were excoriated and hated for representing him.  Yoram Sheftel, the main attorney, received death threats and was the victim of an acid attack that nearly blinded him.  However, he believed in Demjanjuk's innocence and later wrote a book, The Demjanjuk Affair:  the Rise and Fall of a Show Trial.

Demjanjuk was convicted based on documents, some obviously forged, and the testimony of Treblinka survivors who identified him as Ivan the Terrible.  However, the prosecution was relying on memories four decades old, and a very old man who looked a lot different at his trial than he looked in 1943.  Elizabeth Loftus, an Israeli and an expert on memory, was asked to help defend Demjanjuk; she declined, due to the immense public pressure to convict Demjanjuk and ostracize anyone connected with his defense.

Demjanjuk, scapegoat, was sentenced to be hanged for crimes against humanity.  However, four years later, the Israeli Supreme Court overturned his sentence and freed him.

Demjanjuk was no angel, he had been a willing volunteer at Nazi concentration camps and a guard there.  That is undisputed.  He was later convicted in a German court for other war crimes and sentenced to five years in prison.  He died of old age at 91 while waiting for an appeal to be heard. However, his appointment as proxy for Ivan the Terrible illustrates well how the scapegoat phenomenon works:  if you can't get the actual perpetrator of the crime, a stand-in will do fine in placating the hatred of the victims and their families.

Amanda Knox is a new scapegoat, someone to blame and to hate for the murder of Meredith Kercher.  Kercher's family believes in Knox's guilt, not because of any evidence against her (there is none), but because of the scapegoat phenomenon.  They want someone to pay for the crime.  The actual perpetrator of Meredith's murder, a thug named Rudy Guede, is already in prison for "participating" in Meredith's death, sentenced to 16 years for his alleged supporting role.  However, his role was not a supporting role, the evidence is overwhelming that he alone killed Meredith when she surprised him in the act of burglary.  The Kerchers have their perp, a real one, who has been given a sentence far too light for the crime he committed.

I don't know Amanda Knox, don't know if she is a liberal (probably) or a conservative, a sexual libertine or a complete airhead.  Frankly, I don't care, as such personal aspects have nothing to do with her guilt or innocence in the murder of Meredith Kercher.

I see myself in this case as someone who is in ruthless pursuit of truth.  Others, the "guilters" like Ann Coulter, are in merely in a ruthless pursuit of an agenda.  They will have their scapegoat at all costs, including those of truth and justice.


Stogie said...

thanks again from your friends both at home and overseas.

Stogie said...

Nice article

Stogie said...

Agree'd. Coulter has done absolutely no homework on this and has lost any credibilty she had left.

As far as the Kercher family, I think that they've been told over and over that this was done by more than one person, though this is not even close to the truth. As a family in pain, it's commen for families sometimes to hold on to the first answer they get as far as who the culprit is/was. Giuliano is the one with the agenda. Maresca is the one with an agenda. Funny how perceptions changed of Amanda after the Prosecutor talked to different people and witnesses, and the British girls. Amazing how this happens....I strongly recommend John Douglas' new book, "Law and Disorder" to be able to understand further so much of what's happened here. There is a section on this case, but the entire book is a wealth of information that would be helpful for some to read.. I wish the Kercher's could know the information inside his book sooo badly. I do ache for them even in the midst of the pain I feel for them blaming the wrong persons. Thanks for the great article...

Stogie said...

Douglas's book sounds like a must read. I'll look for it. Thanks for the tip!

Stogie said...

Michelle, I bought the Kindle version of Douglas's book "Law and Disorder," and it is fascinating! It is filled with examples of harsh interrogations and false confessions, much of it quite relevant to the Amanda Knox case. This is a great book!

Stogie said...

There is plenty of evidence against Amanda and Rafaelle which is why they were convicted. They did it. Your theory doesn't stand.

Stogie said...

There is zero evidence that Knox had anything to do with the crime. That's why she was acquitted on appeal. You are talking out of your ass.

Stogie said...

I love it the ignorant man uses profanity because he supports a false position. She'll be back in jail soon and you'll still be dumb. Shame.

Stogie said...

I am hardly ignorant, asshole, having read two books on the case and numerous articles, many of which were written by law enforcement experts, all of whom say the case against Amanda Knox was an absolute travesty. You have no facts, no logic, no arguments for guilt, you simply say "she did it," without any proof or evidence whatsover. You are truly ignorant and have nothing of value to add to any discussion about Amanda Knox.