Geopolitics

Strauss-Kahn Fallout: When Media And Politics Rush To Judgement

Editorial: As far as his political future is concerned, it hardly matters whether Dominique Strauss-Kahn is found guilty or innocent of the sex assault charges being levied against him in New York. That’s because the intersection of politics with the fren

The accusations brought against Dominique Strauss-Kahn are extremely serious. At this stage of the judicial process, there is no public proof that the charges are true. Regardless, the IMF chief has already been put on trial, at least from a media and political perspective. And he has been mercilessly condemned.

When one of the world's most powerful people is photographed coming out of a police station, his hands cuffed behind his back, he is already given the sentence usually reserved for people like him.

A very serious question thus arises: should anyone be denied their presumption of innocence in front of the media because of their celebrity? Because if all men are equal in front of the law, the same does certainly not apply when it comes to the press.

Charged with "a criminal sexual act, attempted rape, and unlawful imprisonment in connection with a sexual assault," the head of the International Monetary Fund was called to appear before a New York judge Monday, who ordered him held without bail. Mr. Strauss-Kahn has already announced, through one of his lawyers, that he denies all charges. He also agreed to a police request that he submit himself to forensic tests. The actual trial – which will decide, after close examination, whether the accusations made against him are founded – will come only much later.

The pace of justice can drag out for quite a while. And it may be that at the end of the legal process, Mr. Strauss-Kahn will be declared completely innocent. This happened before, when he was caught up in a corruption scandal involving the MNEF, a student mutual health insurance, and then cleared by a court in 1999.

Then there are the rhythms of the modern media, which operates at lighting speed. For today's media, the sole unit of measurement is the nanosecond. Thanks to Twitter and other instantaneous electronic communication marvels, the story is always told as it happens. Some may rejoice over this, and others may see it as the beginning of a nightmare, but in practice there is very little that anyone can do about it.

As a result, news of Dominique Strauss-Kahn's arrest has the power to make the euro drop on Asian markets – as it did Monday morning – or complicate ongoing negotiations over Greek debt. It can also, as we've experienced ad nauseam since the story first broke Sunday morning, turn the perspective of the next presidential elections upside down.

That's because the passage of political time, which tries to keep pace with the media, does not wait for judicial time to catch up. That Strauss-Kahn might eventually be cleared over this affair has almost no consequences on his political future.

The current procedure against him, which is undoubtedly going to take some time, will prevent him from running as a candidate in the Socialist Party's primaries. The magnitude of the bombshell – or "thunderbolt" as Martine Aubry, the leader of the Socialist Party, put it – delivered by this affair is such that it forced Strauss-Kahn out of the political arena. Regardless of whether he is guilty or not.

photo - Ben Witte

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Paying tribute to the victims of the attack in Kongsberg

Terje Bendiksby/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA
Carl-Johan Karlsson

The bow-and-arrow murder of five people in the small Norwegian city of Kongsberg this week was particularly chilling for the primitive choice of weapon. And police are now saying the attack Wednesday night is likely to be labeled an act of terrorism.

Still, even though the suspect is a Danish-born convert to Islam, police are still determining the motive. Espen Andersen Bråthen, a 37-year-old Danish national, is previously known to the police, both for reports of radicalization, as well as erratic behavior unrelated to religion.

Indeed, it remains unclear whether religious beliefs were behind the killings. In an interview with Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, police attorney Ann Iren Svane Mathiassens said Bråthen has already confessed to the crimes, giving a detailed account of the events during a three-hour interrogation on Thursday, but motives are yet to be determined.

Investigated as terrorism 

Regardless, the murders are likely to be labeled an act of terror – mainly as the victims appear to have been randomly chosen, and were killed both in public places and inside their homes.

Mathiassens also said Bråthen will undergo a comprehensive forensic psychiatric examination, which is also a central aspect of the ongoing investigation, according to a police press conference on Friday afternoon. Bråthen will be held in custody for at least four weeks, two of which will be in isolation, and will according to a police spokesperson be moved to a psychiatric unit as soon as possible.

Witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

Police received reports last year concerning potential radicalization. In 2017, Bråthen published two videos on Youtube, one in English and one in Norwegian, announcing that he's now a Muslim and describing himself as a "messenger." The year prior, he made several visits to the city's only mosque, where he said he'd received a message from above that he wished to share with the world.

Previous criminal history 

In 2012, he was convicted of aggravated theft and drug offenses, and in May last year, a restraining order was issued after Bråthen entered his parents house with a revolver, threatening to kill his father.

The mosque's chairman Oussama Tlili remembers Bråthen's first visit well, as it's rare to meet Scandinavian converts. Still, he didn't believe there was any danger and saw no reason to notify the police. Tlili's impression was rather that the man was unwell mentally, and needed help.

According to a former neighbor, Bråthen often acted erratically. During the two years she lived in the house next to him — only 50 meters from the grocery store where the attacks began — the man several times barked at her like a dog, threw trash in the streets to then pick it up, and spouted racist comments to her friend. Several other witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

The man used a bow and arrow to carry the attack

Haykon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA

Police criticized

Norway, with one of the world's lowest crime rates, is still shaken from the attack — and also questioning what allowed the killer to hunt down and kill even after police were on the scene.

The first reports came around 6 p.m. on Wednesday that a man armed with bow and arrow was shooting inside a grocery store. Only minutes after, the police spotted the suspect; he fired several times against the patrol and then disappeared while reinforcements arrived.

The attack has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms

In the more than 30 minutes that followed before the arrest, four women and one man were killed by arrows and two other weapons — though police have yet to disclose the other arms, daily Aftenposten reports. The sleepy city's 27,000 inhabitants are left wondering how the man managed to evade a full 22 police patrols, and why reports of his radicalization weren't taken more seriously.

With five people killed and three more injured, Wednesday's killing spree is the worst attack in Norway since far-right extremist Anders Breivik massacred 77 people on the island of Utøya a decade ago.

Unarmed cops

As questions mount over the police response to the attack, with reports suggesting all five people died after law enforcement made first contact with the suspect, local police have said it's willing to submit the information needed to the Bureau of Investigation to start a probe into their conduct. Police confirmed they had fired warning shots in connection to the arrest which, under Norwegian law, often already provides a basis for an assessment.

Wednesday's bloodbath has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms — the small country being one of only 19 globally where law enforcement officers are typically unarmed, though may have access to guns and rifles in certain circumstances.

Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert and professor at the Swedish Defence University, noted that police in similar neighboring countries like Sweden and Denmark carry firearms. "I struggle to understand why Norwegian police are not armed all the time," Ranstorp told Norwegian daily VG. "The lesson from Utøya is that the police must react quickly and directly respond to a perpetrator during a life-threatening incident."

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