The Tragedy of Dershowitz
I just watched him talking about how Amanda Knox could, if she had been tried in this country, possibly have received the death penalty because of the “considerable” evidence against her.
This is very frightening to me. The fact that a man like Dershowitz, a brilliant Harvard professor, a legal expert, could throw all reason into the trash and say something so utterly preposterous is deeply, deeply terrifying. It means anything goes. Perhaps I should buy a gun. Without reason, there is no civilization; we might as well be chimpanzees.
It’s not simply a matter of a difference of opinion. Whether or not we should keep soldiers in Afghanistan is an opinion. The Knox case has nothing to do with opinion. Saying there is “considerable” evidence against her is like saying there is “considerable” evidence that the holocaust never happened. It’s such nonsense that even talking about it is costly because you are lending legitimacy to an absurd idea.
There are many people who, like Dershowitz, give up any intellectual credentials they may have and make comments that are so stupid they can only be described as obscene. It is difficult to provide a clear, sensible explanation for this behavior: it could stem from a desire for attention or perhaps it is an indication that we are fundamentally irrational as a species, destined to never go far beyond the techno-chimp stage or maybe we should think of it in religious terms as ever-present evil manifesting itself. I don’t know.
No matter how you look at it, if some supposedly serious person “reasons” as follows: “heads I win; tails you lose,” you immediately know person in question is intellectually a child, incapable of adult reasoning. That Dershowitz, who I have to believe knows better, pulls this off while keeping a straight face (mostly) is certainly a sight to see.
Dershowitz ticked off five pieces of “very, very considerable” evidence, each one more nonsensical than the last, but I have the stomach right now to discuss only the first piece of “evidence” he mentioned. Of course, no one who has given up reason is going to be convinced by my discussion, but the rest of us need to see Dershowitz and many others who hold positions of respect and trust for what they really are: mere prancing royalty. So here we go.
Four days after Meredith Kercher was murdered, Knox was at the police station for her second all-night session with police. Knox had spent many hours during the three days previous at the police station, including the entire first night after the murder. During the final all-night session, the police may have pressured her to some extent. This is not necessarily wrong as the police do have a job to do, as long as they don’t overdo. The interview or interrogation (call it whatever you want) was not recorded and no lawyer was present even though the interrogation of a suspect is inadmissible under Italian law unless a lawyer is present. This fact doesn’t necessarily mean all that much either. Police may have decided not to do an admissible interrogation for any number of reasons – they needed information so perhaps they decided it was worth cutting corners if they were able to find the killer. Police all over the world will sometimes push the envelope and bend the rules to get results.
You’ll notice I am being extremely charitable to the Italian police here, taking their side as much as possible without throwing away all logic. The paragraph above is one-sided, but not absurdly so. Thus, I can present the prosecution’s side, but I am not allowed, as a serious commentator, to spout absurdities. If I do, I have sunk, like Dershowitz, to the level of the tabloids.
Let’s get on with the story. After maintaining repeatedly that she was at her boyfriend’s the night of the murder, Knox broke down sometime after midnight on the fourth day. She signed two statements that said she was present at her house when her housemate was murdered and that her boss, with whom she had had a text exchange the evening of the murder, was also there and that it was he who killed her housemate. These statements can be called confessions, admissions, or just statements, whatever you prefer.
Now comes the part where Dershowitz throws away his reputation and his standing. How do we interpret Knox’s statements about her boss? What are we allowed to say whilst retaining our credibility? We know Knox’s boss, a bar owner, was nowhere near the house that night – he had a rock-solid alibi. Thus, Knox’s confession did include supporting details that only a witness or perpetrator could recite accurately, but the details were nonsense. What police got from Knox was no more accurate than if they had interrogated a random person off the street and asked them to make up a scenario for what might have happened the night of the murder.
Now what? Heads I win, tails you lose? Yes, says Dershowitz, this is how we do things downtown.
Had Knox’s confession contained actual details about the crime that were not common knowledge, this would obviously strengthen it as evidence. Accurate details of this sort are called “corroborating statements” in the interrogation business. In fact, a recorded confession containing corroborating statements is extremely strong evidence and could, by itself, be enough evidence for a jury to convict a suspect. Heads I win.
However, Amanda Knox provided no corroborating statements; she tried to, but they were fabrications. Aha! says Mr. Dershowitz. These fabricated statements, like correct statements, ALSO point to Amanda Knox’s guilt. Tails you lose.
Clever, clever girl she is, providing false details about the crime in a vain effort to throw us off. But she can’t fool us; we know she’s guilty. I’m Alan Dershowitz, I’m a Harvard professor, I understand logic. Heads I win, tails you lose. If she were tried in the U. S., she might very well get the death penalty (smile)! Oh, yes.
Of course, if you are an idiot and you begin with the premise that she is guilty, you will naturally interpret her apparent lack of knowledge about the crime as an attempt to throw us off the trail or confuse us or deflect blame from herself by implicating an innocent man. Knox knew her boss was at his bar that night surrounded by patrons, but this is irrelevant. It is obviously all part of her fiendish plot. Everything points to the guilt we know is there.
Knox’s ridiculous fabrication is actually exculpatory: As Dershowitz and every cop and every judge and every lawyer in the world knows, when a suspect confesses with fabricated details, we immediately have strong reason to doubt the person was even a witness much less the perpetrator.
When you include the fact that the police overtly treated Knox as a suspect but didn’t treat the interrogation in accordance with Italian law, you have an open and shut case of a coerced confession (the law was passed specifically to prevent coerced confessions). Italy’s highest court declared Knox’s confession inadmissible; needless to say, this has no effect on Dershowitz’s dazzling display of intellectual power.
“We know she’s a liar,” Dershowitz said. In fact, we know nothing of the sort. We know someone fabricated details about the murder during Knox’s late-night interrogation. Knox’s claim that it was the police who fabricated those details and pressured her to repeat them is entirely plausible and, in the absence of a recording, cannot be convincingly refuted.
Maybe all of this seems terribly complex and subject to many opinions. It is not. Knox got the details about the crime wrong in her confession. Period. She got it wrong. Dershowitz has chosen to interpret correct details as damning evidence AND also to interpret incorrect details as damning evidence. I would say his reasoning powers are at the level of sixth-grader, but this would be an insult to sixth-graders.
When Dershowitz dies, someone should scratch “Heads I win, tails you lose” on his gravestone.