Epstein affair reveals failings of US criminal justice system
In 2007 Jeffrey Epstein struck a secret deal with prosecutors to avoid serious charges that could have brought a life sentence. His case demonstrates what’s wrong with the US justice system.
Gore Vidal once wrote of novelist Louis Auchincloss that he was ‘the only one who tells us how our rulers behave in their banks and their boardrooms, their law offices and their clubs’. One of the functions of novels may well be to reveal a grotesque we would find intolerable in any other form. But do we really need them to tell us that the great and powerful have their own codes and customs, and the system has special rules for some that may not quite apply to others? The story of Jeffrey Epstein, the multi-millionaire accused of trafficking minors who took his own life while in custody on 10 August, is more than a sex scandal: it is a case study on the workings of the US criminal justice system.
Epstein claimed to have made his fortune managing the assets of billionaires. At his New York, Palm Beach, New Mexico and Virgin Island homes, he entertained celebrities (Kevin Spacey, Chris Tucker, film publicist Peggy Siegal), TV journalists (Charlie Rose, Barbara Walters, Mike Wallace), Prince Andrew, former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, and politicians such as US president Bill Clinton (who flew on Epstein’s private jet). Not to mention a reality TV star soon to occupy the Oval Office.
Though not a university graduate, Epstein regarded himself as an intellectual and gave generously to Harvard and other institutions, notably the MIT Media Lab where he funded research programmes; his friends said he ‘collected’ scientists. Acquaintances included Larry Summers (treasury secretary to Bill Clinton, then president of Harvard and economic advisor to Barack Obama), several Nobel prizewinners, and celebrity law professor Alan Dershowitz.
His taste for young girls was known from the early 2000s: the tabloids called his private jet the ‘Lolita Express’. Trump confided to a journalist in 2002, ‘I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are (…)
Francis Pryer
* The authors are historians working with the Association Connaissance de l’Histoire de l’Afrique Contemporaine (Achac) in conjunction with Emmanuelle Collignon. This year they are organising a programme of events entitled “Colonial memories! Human zoos? Exotic bodies, measured and locked up” starting with an international symposium in Marseilles on 8 and 9 June. Sandrine Lemaire has completed a thesis at the European University Institute in Florence, Nicolas Bancel is a lecturer at University of Paris XI (Orsay), and Pascal Blanchard is a researcher at Centre National de Recherche Scientifique and director of the Paris-based agency, Les Bâtisseurs de Mémoire. This is the last in a series of articles; the first, Human Zoos was published by Le Monde diplomatique English edition in August 2000. The authors have published several books on colonialism in popular culture, including Images et Colonies (1993), L’Autre et nous (1995), Images d’empire (1997), De l’indigène à l’immigré (1998).
(1See Nicolas Bancel and Pascal Blanchard, Le colonialisme, un anneau dans le nez de la République, Hommes et Migrations, Paris, n°1228, November-December 2000.
(2Jean-Pierre Vittori, On a torturé en Algérie, Editions Ramsay, Paris, 1980.
(3See Annie Rey-Goldzeiguer, Aux origines de la guerre d’Algérie, La Découverte, Paris, 2001.
(4A form of social contract rooted in the universal values promoted by the French revolution: equality, fraternity, justice and secularism.
(5For a summary of events, see Alain-Gérard Slama, La guerre d’Algérie. Histoire d’une déchirure, Gallimard, collection Découvertes, Paris, 1996.
(6Charles-André Julien and Charles-Robert Ageron, Histoire de l’Algérie contemporaine, PUF, Paris, 1969.
(7Nicolas Bancel, Pascal Blanchard and Stéphane Blanchoin, L’opposition au projet Blum-Viollette, in Plein Sud, Paris, winter 1994.
(8See Boucif Mekhaled, Chroniques d’un massacre. 8 Mai 1945. Sétif, Guelma, Kherrata, Syros, Paris, 1995; Yves Benot, Massacres coloniaux, La Découverte, Textes à l’appui series, Paris, 1994; and Annie Rey-Goldzeiguer, op. cit.