Discussing an issue that touches sensitivities is always risky. The signal to noise ratio suddenly drops considerably (see the comments on my earlier post on the VanGoethem trial). But maybe we can try to discuss this topic without losing basic civil behavior. The problem I have with the VanGoethem trial is the really weak performance of the prosecution.
Let's recapitulate some facts: The US authorities disregarded the local authorities, namely the police. VanGoethem was brought out of the country under diplomatic immunity, even though there was enough evidence that he had been driving under the influence of alcohol and this alone consitutes a felony under Romanian law (Romania has zero tolerance). The alcohol test performed by the Embassy medical officer showed a blood alcohol level of 0.02. (The breathalyzer test of the Romanian police performed hours before showed a level of 0.09.) It is undisputed that VanGoethem caused an accident in which a taxi was squashed. Teofil Peter died that night. Teofil Peter was cut out of the taxi by Romanian fire fighters. This is in the police protocol. Here's what the defense did:
For the negligent homicide charge, [Defense lawyer] Stackhouse argued that “there was no evidence presented at all that anybody was even in that taxicab, let alone Mr. Peter.” [Taxis drive by themselves all the time in Romania, everybody knows that.] Examples of witnesses the prosecution could have presented but did not, Stackhouse contended, include a Romanian police officer who was on the scene of the accident, or the firefighter who helped free Peter’s body from the wreckage, or the ambulance driver. [Why?] “There could be stronger evidence” to show Peter was in the cab, [Judge] McConnell said after hearing Stackhouse. Stars and StripesHm. I have to wonder why those witnesses were not presented. It seems rather odd to me. Unprofessional, to say the least. Let's go on:
To counter the negligent homicide charge, the Marine’s defense team is contending that the traffic signs and the configuration of the Bucharest intersection where the collision occurred are so confusing that even the most competent driver “stood no chance” of avoiding the crash, chief defender Marine Maj. Phillip Stackhouse said during his Tuesday opening statement. [I drive this very intersection almost weekly. I drove there at night, in the rain, in snow and ice. I've never been confused and I never caused an accident.] Some pivotal elements of that argument include what a flashing yellow light means in Romania as opposed to in the United States and what role the intersection’s multiple stop signs have in relation to the flashing yellow. VanGoethem’s defenders have hinted that Romanian traffic law and U.S. law differ when it comes to reacting to flashing yellow lights. [As in how? When a traffic light flashes yellow, the traffic signs become effective. VanGoethem ran three stop signs. He had been driving in Bucharest for about 1.5 years by then. How stupid is this man?] During their testimony Tuesday, the State Department security officers who were VanGoethem’s bosses at the Embassy both said that the Marine did not receive training in local traffic rules when he took his post in June 2003. [Is this a mandatory training? If so, why didn't he receive it? If not, why not squash this argument?] Stars and StripesCan you see where I'm going? The performance of the prosecution was really weak and here in Romania, the people on the streets are wondering. How can this be? How can these ridiculous claims not be refuted? Why were there no Romanian witnesses present?
Romanian prime minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu called the sentence “astonishing and bizarre” and announced that he would financially support the singer’s family to file a civil lawsuit in an American court to ask for moral amends. The media in Bucharest have had a strong, negative reaction to the sentence, too. While some journalists put the blame on the authorities, saying that they should not have signed the agreement with the U.S. government that allowed the Marine’s immunity to be revoked, others think the prosecution did not do a proper job. “I believe that my brother’s killer would have been punished if the prosecution hadn’t been so weak,” said Dorin Peter, in an interview aired by a Romanian private TV station. Stars and StripesVanGoethem, btw, was merely reprimanded. This means that he doesn't get stripped off rank or payments and he can continue his tour which lasts another year. He may not re-enlist but, let's face it, that's not so bad for causing the death of a human being. Looking at other recent cases of rape, robbery and killings committed by US service personel, one sees a similar liability to protecting the perpetrators rather than supporting local authorities in their work. I just don't like the impression this leaves. Am I being a bit paranoid by thinking that Abu Ghraib might have sent the wrong signal to the troops? Is this a trend or just a statistical quirk? I'm wondering. And you? [Btw, Stars and Stripes is the only primary news source on this topic.]