Thursday, May 26, 2005

Cui prodest?

A prison released Monday a Baltimore nun who damaged a nuclear missile silo in a peace protest. Though her protest has garnered attention, some have focused on a well-known celebrity the nun met while in prison.

Three Dominican nuns, two from Baltimore, were convicted for painting crosses in blood on a Colorado nuclear missile silo in 2002.

WBAL-TV 11 News reporter Rob Roblin reported Sister Carol Gilbert is one of three Dominican nuns convicted of cutting through a fence and painting crosses in blood on a Colorado nuclear missile silo on Oct. 6, 2002.
I know the law views the concept of "damage" differently than its ordinary connotation, and that the law here proscribed the conduct of the nun in rather more specific language than this news report indicates.

But one has to wonder which "damage" was deserving of the prison sentence: cutting the fence? Or painting the cross? Sr. Gilbert spent 33 months in prison for this act. Another nun will serve 41. Justice is not just a matter of doling out punishment for actions the State declares a crime. Justice is also a matter of dealing fairly with all persons, and of upholding the law no matter what compelling reasons demand you break it. As Bob Herbert says this morning:

People have been murdered, tortured, rendered to foreign countries to be tortured at a distance, sexually violated, imprisoned without trial or in some cases simply made to "disappear" in an all-American version of a practice previously associated with brutal Latin American dictatorships. All of this has been done, of course, in the name of freedom.
Cui bono is the Latin phrase most often cited when seeking to fix blame. "Good for whom?" is supposed to be the question. "Follow the money," as Deep Throat told Woodward, but that would be more properly rendered as the question made out of Seneca's statement in Medea: Cui prodest? "Whom does it benefit?" In the original the issue bears an even sharper point: cui prodest scelus, is fecit. "The murderer is the one who gains by the murder." Should the murderer also gain by avoiding justice?

So, cui prodest in American justice today? And, who pays? Justice is a zero sum game, if it is not used to bring balance. The image of Blind Justice holding a scale is not an arbitrary one. When injustice is done, the scales are not balanced, and the only question is: who pays? Two nuns? Lyndie England? Should justice be more balanced than that?

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