Cambyses and Aaron Swartz
By R Tamara de Silva
January 15, 2013
The Optimist thinks this is the best of all worlds.
The pessimist fears it is true
J. Robert Oppenheimer
The prosecutor of the late Aaron Swartz and Sisamnes have something to tell us about the purpose of those who have the awesome task of administering justice. The power of the prosecutor in modern times is absolute and as such unlike in the case of King Cambyses and judge Sisamnes, unchecked when it is abused. All the more reason to ask at these times, what is the purpose of prosecution? Is prosecution in all instances moral?
And is prosecution the same as justice? In answer to the latter, in the case of Aaron Swartz, the answer is resoundingly in the negative.
The prosecution of Aaron Swartz may have followed the letter of the law and fit an omnibus catchall federal charge like wire-fraud, but it makes mincemeat out of Justice. Aaron Swartz’s prosecution also highlights some of the many problems with our criminal justice system.
One of the more memorable stories in the fifth book of Herodotus’ Histories takes place in the sixth century BC and it tells the fate of judge Sisamnes. The Persian King Cambyses discovered that Sisamnes had diverted justice and rendered a verdict in a case based upon his acceptance of a bribe. King Cambyses understood the majesty and power of justice and his retribution for Sisamnes’ abuse of it is unforgettable in its brutality. King Cambyses had Sisamnes stripped of his flesh, while alive and used the strips of flesh to upholster the court’s judge’s chair. But Cambyses’
retribution for the abuse of justice did not end there for he made Sisamnes’
son Otanes sit on the grisly judge’s chair as he was made the replacement justice with the lesson that he must always remember his father’s fate when administering justice.