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AFTERWORD On Justice: An American Melodrama BY FARID MATUK 7111Alf p resident Bush has promised to bring terrorists to justice. I wonder what he means. Its a fair question really, one I’m surprised we haven’t asked. Where, exactly, is this justice and what will it look like should we succeed in taking our attackers there? Before September’s attacks I’d been trying to write a play about a rapist. His name is Earl Shiner. In 1989 Earl forced a 7-year-old boy off his bike in the woods near Tacoma, Washington. There he raped the boy, stabbed him, choked him and cut off his penis. The Tacoma boy survived, accused his attacker and sent the state of Washington into a political and moral frenzy. Shiner, it turned out, had a 24-year history of sexual violence and had already spent a decade in prison for the kidnap and rape of two 16-year-old girls. I can only imagine the collective shame felt as the people of Washington asked how they could have let this happen. Clearly, though, the pressure from thiscase was such that their previous ideas of justice simply exploded. In the aftermath of the crime, the state legislature passed the Community Protection Act, which addressed the problem of violent sexual predators with a solution known as indefinite incarceration. After serving their full punitive sentences, these inmates are re-tried under a civil statute. Those considered a risk to public safety are incarcerated again in therapeutic detention institutions known as Special Commitment Centers. Release is possible but rare, requiring the sub jective approval of mental health experts. On January 17, the U.S. Supreme Court ended a protracted legal challenge by deciding the Community Protection Act functions well within the parameters of the United States Constitution. But is it justice? Recidivism rates among sex offenders are debatable, ranging from 7 to 60 percent. But nobody wants even a single Earl Shiner again. In circumstances so dire, probability becomes moot and certainty is coveted. Washington’s penal, political and legal communities took on a difficult task when they dared to wonder exactly when a rapist would be cured. What would be the proof? How could Earl ever show remorse and how much would be enough? What would be the sign of sincerity and how could officials trust themselves to recognize it? Now in response to conflicting studies regarding the efficacy of Special Commitment Centers, Washington legislators have begun to consider dropping any pretense of treatment and simply. lengthening sentences for sex crimes to as much as 50 years in prison for first-time offenders and life for repeat offenders. What is it we want from justice? Or is it justice we want at all? Though I shudder at their Orwellian empowerment of the state, at their notion of incarceration based on presumed intent, I have to admire Washington legislators for their attempts to achieve some kind of clarity, no matter how distasteful or draconian. They may ultimately find a sense of safety in simply boxing aberrant desire away. As poorly as this bodes for our civil liberties as a whole, there is something to value here. Washington’s treatment of justice has stripped away abstract ideas of fairness. Here the only virtue left to stand on may be the cold virtue of honesty, the honest admission of a citizenry’s bald fear. It is at this psychic level of deep loss that rape survivors, mutilated little boys and people all over Washington State operate as they rethink justice. Most sex between children and adults is initiated by trusted family members or friends of the family. Special Commitment Centers can do little to protect children from those closest to them. But it seems that the protection of children is not the point. Special Commitment Centers make Washingtonians feel safe. To run your hands across the wall of one of these institutions must be to know that what you have judged to be evil is now away from you, on the other side, maybe forever. We should demand this sane clarity of purpose from a President that has taken us into war and from ourselves who have followed. People, after all, are dying, and the powers of a magic word like justice are simply too strong, too charming to leave unquestioned. In the days after the attacks I argued for unconditional peace.Yet, curiously, the more I think about justice the farther I move from such intractable 22 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 12/7101