No posts for a few days - a situation which I will be in a position to explain in a day or two. For now, I can say that the big scare we had has receded somewhat, and in the official colours of scares authorised by the Department of Homeland Security we've probably been lowered from a Magenta to a Puce, or something.
Anyway, lets talk about the news that is gripping the country. That of the acquittal of Christopher VanGoethem, US Marine, on charges of negligent homicide (and adultery). So let's review the facts: In December 2004, VanGoethem, a Marine in a plum job at the US Embassy in Bucharest, was driving home from having sex with his girlfriend, a secretary at the embassy (VanGoethem is married), jumped a stop sign and rammed into a taxi, killing its passenger, one Teofil Peter (who happened to be, before his untimely demise, bass player in Romanian rock band "Compact"). Breathalysed at the scene, VanGoethem was discovered to have a blood alcohol level of 0.09 (over the limit in more or less every country in the world that I'm aware of), and hours later tested at the US Embassy to still have a level of 0.02 (still way above the limit in Romania which is 0.00).
The next day, VanGoethem was whisked out of the country to be tried by a US Military court. That court has just returned a verdict of not guilty on charges of negligent homicide and adultery, but has found him guilty of obstructing justice (he phoned his girlfriend afterwards to try and make their stories fit), and has dished out the very very harsh punishment of a letter of reprimand.
That much is beyond dispute. The trial is the thing that seems, well, let's just say, dodgy. The defence's case seems to have rested on not having any proof that Teo Peter was actually in the taxi (despite the fact that firemen had to cut his mangled body out of the mangled wreckage), and that the road junction was so confusing that he couldn't possibly have negotiated it successfully (this is a major road junction in a major European capital city, which tens of thousands of people manage to negotiate successfully on a daily basis). Miraculously this outrageous bluff seems to have been successful - due mostly to the fact that the prosecution were completely hopeless, and didn't even bother to counter these rizla-thin arguments. They didn't even call the taxi driver to the stand.
As you might imagine, this has not played out very well in Romania. Romania, let us not forget is a fairly pro-American country in European terms. They're a member of the so-called "Coalition" in Iraq, and as far as I can tell, this status is not a heavily criticised one in public opinion. The governments of the two countries seem to get on fairly well, and the US are about to open some kind of military base here (but they never used the country as a site for their ongoing torture of random Arabs and other Muslims, that's just a vicious rumour). The TV News a couple of days ago could talk about nothing else but this slap in the face and how the whole nation has been spat upon by the US Military justice system. In this respect, I think that the fact that this guy was famous and not Gheorghe Nobodyescu has had a positive effect - no-one is prepared to let this be swept under the carpet. The government has offered Peter's family money to pursue a civil case, and everyone is anxious to be seen to be upset by this. (The most nauseating thing on TV was seeing VanGoethem's mother interviewed outside the courtroom talking about how much her son has suffered and how glad she is that this is over and how she feels that she understands Peter's family since her family has gone through so much in this case too. Now, I presume VanGoethem has suffered - after all he killed some innocent bloke who was just going home one night, and I have to assume that he (VanGoethem) is a normal human being who feels guilt and compassion about the results of his negligence, but for someone in his family to play that card is, to say the least, obscene.)
This story has no media coverage whatsoever in the US (outside of the Stars and Stripes, the military paper), but tons and tons here. As PR it is a huge gaffe of vast proportions. You'd think someone could have had a word with the court and said "Listen guys, I know we normally brush these things under the carpet, but this time, we have to show that we care about justice, because the whole country of Romanian is watching us, and we want to keep them onside". But no, they just whitewashed the whole incident. Nice going, guys. Good work.
Better written English language blogs on the same subject:
Claudia at Halfway Down the Danube and Soj at Flogging the Simian .