Thursday, April 15, 1999
law should be salvagedThe issue: Whether to renew the independent counsel lawPERHAPS the beating he took in public opinion led Kenneth Starr to conclude that the independent counsel law under which he operated in his investigation of President Clinton is irreparably flawed and should not be renewed. In testimony before a Senate committee, Starr blamed both the structure of the law and a "carnival-like atmosphere" in the media for his problems. He acknowledged that "the assaults took a toll." However, he based his opposition on constitutional grounds.
Our view: The law should be improved, but not abandoned.
Some Democrats charged that it was Starr's performance, not the law, that was flawed. In fact Clinton and his defenders were remarkably successful in turning the Monica Lewinsky affair into an assault on the independent counsel's tactics. In the end, they could not prevent the House of Representatives from impeaching the president but managed to fend off removal from office by the Senate.
Starr defended his tactics and maintained that he retains the power to prosecute Clinton after he leaves office. The reality that Clinton had behaved outrageously was reconfirmed this week when he was held in civil contempt of court by a federal district judge for his "willful refusal" to testify truthfully about his liaison with Lewinsky.
That decision might be viewed as a partial vindication for Starr. But the public has had more than enough of this affair and he would be well advised to wind up his investigation, which has already lasted 41/2 years and cost nearly $40 million.
Experience with the independent counsel law has revealed a need to enact restrictions on the length of investigations and the types of violations to be probed. Investigations should be held to limits of time and funding. Probes should be restricted to serious allegations; there have been some trivial ones. More oversight, perhaps by a panel of judges, might be useful.
However, the law serves an important purpose. It provides a means to take responsibility for the prosecution of the president and other high government officials away from the president's appointee, the attorney general. The Watergate scandal showed the need for such a mechanism, and the need remains. An attempt should be made to remove the flaws and salvage the law -- not abolish it.
Malaysian trialThe issue: The conviction and sentencing of a former deputy prime minister of Malaysia on corruption chargesTHE conviction and sentencing to prison of a former deputy prime minister on apparently trumped up charges is a black mark against the current regime in Malaysia. The human rights group Amnesty International said the accused, Anwar Ibrahim, was a prisoner of conscience and that the charges were a "pretext to remove him from further participation in public life."
Our view: The charges apparently were trumped up and the case could spark political unrest.
Anwar was formerly the protege of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad but incurred Mahathir's wrath by breaking with him over economic issues. Anwar was dismissed from the government and then arrested on charges of corruption and sexual immorality. He was convicted on four corruption charges and sentenced to six years in prison on each charge, with the terms to run concurrently. The sentence effectively bars him from participation in politics for at least five years after his release.
Anwar has argued that he was framed for challenging his former mentor and threatening the cozy relationship between the government and the Malaysian corporate world. But the judge barred his lawyers from using political conspiracy as a defense.
The treatment of Anwar could energize opposition parties to challenge the ruling party, which has governed Malaysia since it gained independence from Britain in 1957. Hundreds demonstrated in protest outside the courthouse as the verdict was announced, lighting fires and hurling rocks at police.
Malaysia has enjoyed a high degree of stability, but the martyrdom of Anwar Ibrahim could backfire on the autocratic Mahathir. Certainly it has tarnished the country's image.
Kevorkian convictedThe issue: Jack Kevorkian was charged with second-degree murder in an assisted death.JACK Kevorkian repeatedly tested the law's limits. After nine years, five trials and 130 assisted suicides, he found those limits in an assisted death of a man with Lou Gehrig's disease that was filmed and broadcast on network television. Convicted of second-degree murder, he was sentenced to 10 to 25 years in prison.
Our view: Legislation is needed to legalize physician-assisted suicide and physician-assisted death.
Oakland County, Mich., Circuit Judge Jessica Cooper told Kevorkian the trial "was not about the political or moral correctness of euthanasia. It was all about lawlessness."
It was a point well taken. Kevorkian has repeatedly flouted the law in his crusade for the right to die. That right deserves to be recognized, but it must be done through the legislative process, not by taking the law in his own hands.
Hawaii legislators this year rejected proposals to legalize physician-assisted suicide and physician-assisted death, with appropriate safeguards. But the proposals will surface again -- and someday they will be adopted, because there is a genuine need for such legislation.
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