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jueves, marzo 12, 2009

Harsh Sentence For Iraq Shoe Thrower

Reuters reports:
An Iraqi reporter who hurled his shoes at former President George W. Bush was convicted of attempting to assault a foreign leader on Thursday and jailed for three years, dismaying many Iraqis who regard him as a hero.

Muntazer al-Zaidi, 30, who pleaded not guilty to the charge, told the Baghdad court: "What I did was a natural reaction for the crimes committed against the Iraqi people."

Outside the courtroom, wails erupted from Zaidi's family and other supporters when they heard the verdict. One of his brothers fainted and his sister Ruqaiya burst into tears, shouting: "Down with Maliki, the agent of the Americans."

Zaidi earned instant global fame in December when he threw his shoes at the visiting U.S. leader, who spearheaded the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and called him a dog at a news conference.

Dhiaa al-Saadi, the head of Zaidi's defense team, condemned the sentence as harsh and said it would be appealed.

The sentence is harsh. But it's not as harsh as the initial press reports about Zaidi, in which the Iraqi government suggested that they might want to give him fifteen years for his insolence. A fifteen year sentence in this case would have been an obvious travesty and a mockery of justice.

The actual, 3-year sentence, if I may parse it, is an attempt to show that the Iraqi government would like to appear as a moderate, just state, one that, after pressure and on reflection, does not impose extreme punishments. Rather, it gives punishments only slightly harsher than the US itself might give in a similar circumstance. That's what Iraq is trying to say to us.

In 1980 I represented one of two young men, members of the Revolutionary Communist Party, who went to the UN Security Council with red paint, and threw the red paint on both the US and USSR ambassadors while they were in the Security Council Chamber. They then shouted slogans and were arrested. Both were charged with conspiracy and a violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 112. That United States statute, a part of which arguably would apply to throwing two shoes at a visiting head of state and missing him twice, permits a 3-year term of imprisonment if someone "assault, strikes, wounds.. or offers violence" to an official guest of the US or a 6-month sentence if someone harasses or attempts to harass a foreign official.

Is throwing a shoe at an official guest, but missing him an attempted assault under the US statute, one that could be given a 3-year sentence? Probably. See, e.g., United States v. Gan, 636 F.2d 28 (2d Cir. 1980).

That's the comparison Iraq appears to be trying to make. But it's not really a fair comparison.

Unfortunately, the beating Zaidi received upon his arrest, his alleged torture after arrest, his being kept from family and friends and his lawyers while he was awaiting trial all don't figure in the belated Iraqi public relations offensive. All of that has been swept under the rug.

Zaidi should be immediately released. He's served enough time.

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