Bernard Henri-Levi Heart Dominique Strauss-Kahn

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund accused of sexual assault and attempted rape of a hotel maid, is experiencing the presumption of innocence at the heart of the American system of criminal justice. When he goes to trial, it will be up to the DA to prove the charges before he can be punished as a criminal; a jury, probably, will get to decide whether he is guilty or not. The cards are stacked in his favor: they have to find that the charges are proved beyond a reasonable doubt, and all his defense team has to do is to show such doubt, not to prove him innocent; indeed, there is no finding of “innocent”: just “not guilty”, and you walk out the door.

He’s in jail now to assure his presence at his trial, not as punishment. We let defendants out on bail as much as we can, consistent with assurance that they will not skip; in this case the judge was not so assured.

Presumed innocent has to do with what the government can do to you, not what people think of you, and Mark has a point about setting you up for pictures in handcuffs, pictures that cannot be untaken if you aren’t convicted. There is no requirement that citizens believe anything at all, including “innocent”, about an accused. The smirking agreement now coming out in the French press is that DSK has always been a randy goat and everyone knew it. The formal complaint of attempted rape from Tristane Banon, a complaint she was counseled out of filing at the time by her mother and other people who probably had her interest at heart, lead me to exercise my right to believe absent new evidence, that Strauss-Kahn tried to rape a poor woman who happened into his path because he thought he could, and my right to conjecture that he thought that because he had successfully done so in the past. This time he got the surprise of his life. I make it nine to two that more women will be heard from in this way now. YMMV, and the facts will tell.

DSK’s wife, having made it through an affair he had with a subordinate that almost cost him his job, says she doesn’t believe a word of this story. Perhaps she doesn’t; perhaps he never tried to rape her, perhaps she has been protected from what everyone else in her circle seems to know, or perhaps she has her own odd ideas of what is attractive in a man.

What’s totally astonishing is the repulsive screed posted by Bernard-Henri Lévy, a journalist cum soi-disant philosopher claiming to be a twenty-year friend of Strauss-Kahn. An adequate translation is here, original here. Short version:

DSK is my friend, and I am Bernard-Henri L̩vy. How dare these people of no importance treat him as though he has been credibly accused of a violent crime! He has a wife, with whom I, BHL, have dined, at parties with witty and charming Important People, and to speak publicly of any of this is victimizing her. To show my loyalty to this member of my privileged and superb tribe, I am going to make up nonsense about how rooms are cleaned in New York hotels, and assert, in my most magisterial way, that the US criminal justice system has a presumption of guilt. I have been to America, and I know about these things. The idea that a chambermaid is permitted in that vile country to accuse a Man of Great Importance! That a servant is permitted to trip up the great enterprise of my beloved French socialism! That if my seductive, charming, friend DSK, who loves the ladies, especially his own three, has forced himself on women they are supposed to be seen as victims Рthe nerve!

Two French intellectuals with their reputations and careers in tatters, I would say.

[Cross-posted at Same Facts]

Michael O’Hare

Michael O'Hare is a Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.