The Dismissed DSK Case: Everyone’s A Loser

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Former International Monetary Fund leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn, center, and his wife Anne Sinclair, left, leave a hearing at Manhattan State Supreme court, New York, Tuesday, August 23, 2011. The case against Strauss-Kahn, who accused by hotel housekeeper Nafissatou Diallo of sexual assault, was dismissed. (Photo: Craig Ruttle / Photo)

After a certain point, it was probably fated to be so. But less than 24 hours after a New York judge dismissed the criminal case against former International Monetary fund chief for sexual assault, it’s clear the outcome of the drama that mesmerized much of the world leaves everyone a loser. In the end, virtually everybody will feel injustice prevailed; that they’ve a legitimate claim to a victimization gripe; and what they do now will be motivated and shaped by prejudices they unfairly suffered:

  •  Nafissatou Diallo and her supporters say they were thrown under the bus by prosecutors fearful of losing a high profile attempted rape case against a rich and powerful man, and in so doing left the plaintiff cast as a credibility-deprived witness based on lies she told that had nothing to do with her accusations of assault.  As a result, her alleged attacker strolls free, and she’s forced to seek justice herself through civil procedures.
  •  DSK and his allies say the court’s decision to respect prosecutors’ call to drop the case confirms their long insistence the assault claims were untrue, and as such would never be substantiated and taken to court. But while Strauss-Kahn and his backers applaud that development and full restoration of his freedom that it brings, some note the dismissal scarcely returns DSK the IMF job or status as the favorite candidate to become France’s next president that he lost to the three-month ordeal. He’s preparing to return to France, where he’s the subject of another attempted rape legal investigation amid wide-spread public relief over his freeing–but lingering suspicions about his character.
  •  And most of us in reader- and bloviator- land, who—like it or not—wound up feeling like we had some sort of dog in the fight (even if we weren’t always sure which one was ours) come away thinking just about everything but justice was done, and for much the same reasons the Diallo and DSK camps can legitimately feel wronged. “If his innocence hasn’t been proven, strictly speaking, DSK is no longer being pursued by American justice officials”, writes Libération editorialist Sylvain Bourmeau Wednesday. “So, we’ll never know the truth. Could we have ever really learned it one day?”. The answer: we’ll never know, and because of that, no one wins and everyone loses in one way or another.

So what now? For Strauss-Kahn, the future remains very unclear. After recovering the passport confiscated after his arrest and indictment on seven accounts of sexual assault, the former IMF chief is expected to return to France and—eventually—speak his mind to fellow Socialist Party members and the French public as part of a rehabilitation process. Though DSK broke his self-imposed silence since his arrest to tell reporters Tuesday he was relieved at “the end of a terrible and unfair trauma”, it’s both unlikely he’ll start making any impassioned or combative statements of his innocence soon—and almost unthinkable he’ll try to reclaim his turf in France’s looming presidential race.

On the one hand, Strauss-Kahn is aware that even if he no longer runs any risk of being found guilty of criminal sexual misconduct in the U.S., the on-going French investigation into the attempted rape claims will continue leaving him vulnerable—if nothing else, to public suspicions about his conduct and credibility following the media reports about his objectionable private behavior that have swirled over the past three months.

And despite his former reputation as a capable, commanding leader who polls were predicting would trounce incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in next year’s presidential elections, Strauss-Kahn has additional reasons for resuming a decidedly low profile in the wake of his legal drama. Although contenders have made good-sport noises about allowing DSK a belated entry (were he to insist on it) to the Socialist Party’s presidential primary, most pundits note that with less than three months to go before that competition ends, Strauss-Kahn resuming his hunt for the Elysée would probably do the left much more harm than good. Since Strauss-Kahn’s arrest and indictment, fellow Socialists he formerly towered over have stepped up to fill his void and project themselves, too, as credible options to Sarkozy. Indeed,  despite having far less charisma and presence than the former IMF head, the two main favorites in the Socialist primary are still projected to beat Sarkozy in current polls. That relatively encouraging outlook for Socialists could darken were Strauss-Kahn to insist on reclaiming a presidential mantle that voters may not view as fitting him anymore.

“The reality is that though DSK has lost none of the qualities that previously made him the man most French voters wanted as their next president, his legal problems left him sidelined while the primary process moved on–and public perceptions changed,” says a Socialist Party official who asks not to be identified. “Too much has been revealed, too much has been said, and the political focus of party members and average voters has shifted to the candidates contesting the primary. I think DSK realizes re-entering public life any time too soon wouldn’t restore his former aura, and would only create distractions and possible divisions that would benefit Sarkozy and the right.”

For that reason, most editorialists and political analysts are now predicting DSK will assume a relatively low profile as he seeks to explain his side of the turmoil that engulfed him with his May 14 arrest. Some observers also speculate Strauss-Kahn will eventually seek to shift his discourse away from the topic of his private affairs back towards issues of politics and public policy–an effort to gradually remind any forgiving voters of why it was they paid attention to him prior to his fall. However, it’s clear that transition will take time, especially given the details that have circulated so long and loudly about his past sexual behavior. The general consensus seems to be that while most French voters still believe DSK would provide intelligent and competent leadership when held accountable to public scrutiny, there are now also real doubts about his ability to keep his brain fully anchored to the upper half of his body once behind closed doors.

“Given his talents and abilities, I see no reason why DSK couldn’t again resume a place as an influential voice, even active political figure, once the time for explaining and healing has passed,” says the Socialist official. “That could be as a legislator, advisor, even cabinet member in a leftist government, if things go well as they should. But it’s difficult to imagine him as a presidential candidate again—and inconceivable now.”

For her part, Diallo and her lawyers vow they’ll continue building their civil case against Strauss-Kahn for what their complaint describes as a “violent and sadistic attack”. Her attorneys have also begun looking for women in France prepared to provide additional evidence or testimony of sexual assaults they may have suffered at Strauss-Kahn’s hands. They’ve elsewhere lodged a complaint for witness tampering based on their allegations DSK allies sought to dissuade a young woman from coming forward to reveal what she’s since described as a long (though not abusive) affair with Strauss-Kahn. DSK backers quietly dismiss that action as increasingly desperate digging for bones in Strauss-Kahn’s own French yard–and geared more toward the tabloids in a personal battle with DSK than destined to build a credible court case.

Diallo’s lawyers retort that by saying Tuesday’s ruling honoring  prosecutors’ requests to drop the charges against Strauss-Kahn leave them no other recourse in seeking justice for her than to continue these other legal options—including the civil case lodged in the Bronx. DSK’s attorneys argue such moves are less about obtaining justice for what they’ve said was in fact consensual sex between the two protagonists, and much more about extorting money from Strauss-Kahn to make it all go away. “One thing must be clear,” Strauss-Kahn’s lawyer, Benjamin Brafman told the daily le Parisien Wednesday. “DSK has no intention, and never had any intention of paying (Diallo) any money. She suffered no wrong (and) he is innocent.”

Or still presumed to be, in the absence of a trial and judgment of what seems the long-forgotten crux of the case: whether the sexual encounter that took place in the Sofitell suite May 14 was consensual, or a forced act constituting a crime (and irregardless of whatever lies Diallo may have told about other matters). But given this week’s events, it’s now virtually certain no one besides Diallo and Strauss-Kahn will ever know the exact nature of what happened. Meaning that lives, careers, and history that were changed, and the trans-Atlantic debates that raged about justice systems, social attitudes, and the treatment of women who dare to accuse men of abuse remain very real consequences of something that–legally, anyway– became an enigmatic nothing on Tuesday afternoon. How satisfying is that?