NO CRUELER TYRANNIES by Dorothy Rabinowitz


Accusation, False Witness, and Other Terrors of Our Times
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Wall Street Journal editorial board member and Pulitzer-winner Rabinowitz revisits some of the most spectacular sexual-abuse trials of the 1980s—and concludes the guilty verdicts were egregious miscarriages of justice.

Taking her title and thesis from Montesquieu’s declaration that there are no crueler tyrannies than those “perpetrated under the shield of law and in the name of justice,” the author finds nothing more baffling that the decisions of various Massachusetts authorities to continue to incarcerate Gerald Amirault, who along with other family members saw their preschool and their reputations destroyed by a flood of accusations in the mid-1980s. Rabinowitz explores the bizarre nature of the children’s claims, which included being raped publicly with sharp instruments and taken to a “magic room” in which a clown forced them to perform or endure sordid acts. (Spaceships and robots were involved too.) She attacks the entire system that made these trials possible: overzealous police and prosecutors whose leading interviews of children prompted many outrageous accusations; professional child-abuse experts willing, even eager to testify for the state; the rapacious media; a public with a boundless appetite for the salacious; incompetent public defenders; and the whole notion that children are innocent and must be believed. The author intercuts the Amiraults’ sad story with accounts of other cases, including the trial of police officer Grant Snowden, convicted of a sexual offense against a three-year-old; multiple cases in Wenatchee, Washington, where more than 40 people were charged with more than 2,400 counts of abuse; the weird and disgusting charge against Dr. Patrick Griffin, convicted of performing oral sex on a woman undergoing a colonoscopy; and the conviction of a marina owner for raping his 13-year-old stepdaughter. Rabinowitz takes a few gratuitous potshots at liberals and implies that most of Harvard Law School’s faculty are cowards, but she successfully carries the point that the testimony of children in these cases must be submitted to more rigorous standards.

An uncompromising look at a troubling bias in our legal system.

Pub Date: March 27th, 2003
ISBN: 0-7432-2834-0
Page count: 288pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2003