David Beresford: Rush to judgement

Drones, or pilotless aircraft, are becoming a favourite weapon of the Americans. The machines used to be limited to photographic reconnaissance. But recently a drone called the “predator” firing “hellfire” missiles and controlled from America has been used for assassination purposes, or “executions” as the Yanks would no doubt have it.

Recently a drone firing hellfire missiles blew away seven luxury four-wheel-drive vehicles in the Western Desert, near the Syrian border.
It was apparently an attempt to kill Saddam Hussein. A few months ago the CIA boasted that one of their predator drones had killed Ali Quaed al Harti, a confidante of Osama Bin Laden as he and five companions drove in a Land Cruiser through the Yemeni desert.

The first reported case of the Americans resorting to this preemptory way of dealing with “war criminals” was in Afghanistan, when a group of unidentified people who had gathered under a tree were blown away. No one ever explained what sort of hanky panky these people were getting up to under that tree, but presumably they were doing something fairly dreadful.

Recently I happened to see once again “Judgement at Nuremberg”, Stanley Kramer’s powerful film on German depravity and American principle which has long been one of my favourite movies.

The highlight of the film comes when Spencer Tracey—playing the judge—effectively demolishes the Burt Lancaster character (a German, needless to say) with a few well-chosen words on the sanctity of innocent life. As Tracey strode triumphantly out of the prison, it struck me there was no way that a nation, with culture and conscience rooted in Hollywood, could carry out executions without judicial formality. The proceedings may have to be played out behind closed doors, for reasons of national security, but we can be confident they take place.

To reassure those who might be lacking such confidence, I felt it would be worth while having Hollywood make a film on the subject. So I have written a script—or “pitch” as I believe it is known in the industry—on the courtroom drama which no doubt led to the unleashing of the thunderbolts from those otherwise clear skies.

“Judgement at Langley” opens in a room occupied by two men, busily consulting their law books. There enters a white haired man with a weary air on his homely face. The two other men, the prosecutor and defence council stand.

“This court is now in session. God Bless the United States of America,“calls one. The judge makes his solemn way over to an elevated desk. On the desk are a gravel and a large red button. The judge solemnly sits, picks up the gravel in a familiar way, takes a practice swipe at the button and misses. The prosecutor, clutching his hair, cries out: “Not until he’s found guilty, your worship.”

“Ahh,” says the judge. “You mean that ...” he makes a motion with his hand in the air like a pilotless drone loaded with hell-fire missiles. The prosecutor nods. The judge nods, knowingly, settles back in his chair and looking around, notices the room is emptier than his courtroom is normally. “Where’s the jury ?” he asks suspiciously.

“Ah, ‘need to know’, your worship”, says the prosecutor.

“Need to know?” asks the judge in bewilderment..

“Uh, yes, this is CIA headquarters,” explains the prosecutor.

“Ah, ‘need to know’, nods the judge as comprehension dawns. “Well, produce the accused,” he commands.

“Uhh, we don’t have one,” confesses the prosecutor. “But we do have defence counsel.”

The judge gives a welcoming smile, tinged with relief, to the defence counsel.

“And how does your client plead ?” he inquires.

The defence counsel leaps to his feet and shouts: “My client refuses to recognise this court.”

“How do you know that ?” asks the judge, curious.

The defence counsel looks taken aback. “I felt it in my waters.”

The judge is going to pursue the subject, but recovers himself and bangs his gravel, another near-miss causing the prosecutor to wince again. “Silence in court. A plea of not guilty shall be entered. ” he announces sternly.

There is a knock on the door. It open to reveal a very beautiful woman who sings a few bars from Lilli Marlene and departs (this romantic role may be expanded later.)

The judge nods to the prosecutor.

“May it please the court. It is not only a great honour, it is also a great challenge for an advocate to aid this court in its task, ” says the prosecutor, his voice rising. “The entire civilised world will follow closely what we do here. For this is not an ordinary trial, the avowed purpose of this court—rather than the visiting of retribution on one man—it is dedicated to the reconsecration of the temple of justice,” his voice reaching a crescendo, finger wagging in the air.

“It is dedicated to finding a code of justice the whole world will be responsible to….. “

Defence counsel is looking increasingly puzzled, rifling through his notes. He rises to his feet. “Objection, your worship, that’s the defence speech.”

“No it’s not,” says the prosecutor heatedly. “Burt Lancast…...”

“Silence in court,” cries the judge. “I’ll count it as the opening for both the defence and the prosecution. Now, as a wise man once said, justice delayed is, ah…. umm…

“Oomigosh,“cries the prosecutor, looking at his watch, “it’s time !” He rushes out of the room and returns, staggering under the weight of a television monitor which he hurriedly connects up and switches on. Pictured on the screen is a land-cruiser driving through a desert. Inside it can be seen six men with beards.

“Which one is he,” demands the judge ?

“Uhhh….errr…” mumbles the prosecutor

“Which one did it ?”

“Uhhhh….aaaah .....eenie meanie…...”

“That reminds me, what did he do?”

“Ummmmm…. Driving on the wrong side of the road ?” hazards the prosecutor.

“Don’t be stupid man. He’s driving through a desert,” the judge shouts. “Silence in court !” he bangs his gravel. “I find the accused…....” A second blow of his gravel hits the red button. On screen the Land Cruiser is replaced by a puff of smoke. Silence falls in the courtroom, broken by the judge.

“Oops….... guilty.” - Guardian Unlimited Â

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