September 22, 2011

The many hats of justice

Yesterday the news was dominated by a theme of justice. Depending on which side you fell on, justice either prevailed around 7 p.m. EST for Troy Davis or around 11 p.m. EST for advocates on the side of the murder victim's family. Then after following a twisted and often perverse trail lasting 26 months, the two American hikers imprisoned in Iran were finally freed through messy international diplomatic negotiations and a $1 million bail.

The news this week gave us good insight into soft spots in our country's justice system and when it works and when it doesn't work so well. The Troy Davis case gained a lot of traction yesterday with social media and the international community, including Pope Benedict, called for the execution to be halted because of evidence that was weak and contradictory. Since 2007, Davis has been scheduled for execution three times, each time the execution stopped because of new evidence or recanted statements from witnesses. 

Early yesterday evening, Davis' supporters celebrated when the US Supreme Court said it would review the case. Less than three hours later, the Court decided that they wouldn't intervene. Just after 11 p.m., Davis was executed. His last words? 

"I am innocent," Davis said moments before he was executed Wednesday night. "All I can ask ... is that you look deeper into this case so that you really can finally see the truth. I ask my family and friends to continue to fight this fight." (from this CBS story)

Justice was achieved in a very different way for the two American hikers. Using Swiss diplomats and the Omani government, $1 million bail was paid to the Iranian government and the hikers boarded a plane for Oman and left Iran for good. 

Watch the full episode. See more PBS NewsHour.

Throughout the past two years, several people have weighed in on what the hikers were doing along the Iranian border. What were they doing there by themselves? Do you think they were spies? Why didn't they have a guide? Why on earth would they go to a region the US is at war with? 

Though I can't speak on behalf of their motives for hiking along the border, I can somewhat relate to their desire to explore the region. Kurdistan has been at war for most of the 29 years the hikers have been alive, and only recently the region became somewhat safer for people to visit (remember that Anthony Bourdain episode I wrote about a few weeks ago?)

The best way to explain it is that some people crave exploring uncommon (and sometimes dangerous) parts of the world that few tourists go. In a super globalized world, adventuring into those areas is often the only way to see truly authentic and pure culture as it was prior to Lady Gaga and KFC.

I heard a story on the BBC last week about one of the last Gaddafi strongholds in Libya, Bani Walid. The reporter was talking about the battle that was likely to ensue and was interviewing locals about their opinions on it. By some extraordinary luck, the reporter interviewed an American who was living in Bani Walid. He was a college student from California who went to Libya after his spring semester ended. He said he wanted to be a part of that country's revolution, to see it fall apart then become united again.

Now, he's back at school in Cali, pending he was able to find a flight out of Tripoli.

He didn't have any Libyan descent in his family. He had no special interests or ties to the country. He just wanted to be part of a revolution.

Just as I imagine those hikers wanted to discover the Kurdish people and ancient Iraqi culture when they unintentionally slipped into Iran. To travelers, experiences like these are fulfilling and adrenaline pumping in the same way that demolition derbies, hunting expeditions, or mountain climbing are to others. All of which are hobbies that are hard to understand the motivation unless you share the same passion.

Regardless, more than two years of these hikers' lives were spent in hell. And now they're free. I'm thankful for their freedom, but I don't envy their reintegration into their formerly "normal" lives. 

Justice has very publicly taken on a variety of forms this week, and according to some it was served in all the right ways. According to others, it was grossly enforced. But these were just the public stories, just think of how many times each day these kind of situations are played out in prisons worldwide.

think. improve. 

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