Are parents legally liable for property damage caused by monsters summed to their city by their minor child? If parents can be sued for forest fires, can they be sued for fire-breathing monsters controlled by a child?
The Marvel mini-series Monsters Unleashed tells the story of Kei Kawade, an Inhuman child who can summon classic monsters by drawing them on a piece of paper. Kei’s art projects summoned creatures that rampaged in Atlanta and St. Louis, forcing his family to move [possibly to escape civil liability].
Parental liability for torts of a child did not exist under common law. As one California Court explained, “statutes imposing parental liability are therefore ‘in derogation of the common law,’ and the rule is that statutes which increase liability, or provide a remedy against a person who was not liable at common law are to be narrowly construed in favor of those sought to be subjected to them.” Curry v. Superior Court, 20 Cal. App. 4th 180, 183-84 (1993), citations omitted.
The amount of recovery for parental liability for the acts of a child varies state to state. In Georgia, parents with custody of a minor child are liable for the “willful or malicious acts” of their child up to $10,000 for reasonable medical expenses and/or property damage caused by a child’s rampage. The law specifically states:
Every parent or guardian having the custody and control over a minor child or children under the age of 18 shall be liable in an amount not to exceed $10,000.00 plus court costs for the willful or malicious acts of the minor child or children resulting in reasonable medical expenses to another, damage to the property of another, or both reasonable medical expenses and damage to property.
Ga. Code Ann. § 51-2-3(a).
Missouri has similar laws for parents whose children have caused personal injury or damaged property by “purposely marking upon, defacing or in any way damaging any property,” except that damages are limited to $2,000. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 537.045.
Kei’s early monster rampages were in Georgia and Missouri. Those states limit recovery for property damage to $10,000 and $2,000. By way of comparison, California’s limit for property damages is $25,000 under Cal Civ Code § 1714.1. That means those with property damage could sue Kei’s parents for up to the maximum amounts in Georgia and Missouri. While these laws were not meant to cover damages from a monster attack, the combined damages from multiple property owners could add up fast for the Kawades and their insurance company.
The issue in Georgia is whether Kei acted recklessly drawing a picture of a monster that then appeared and destroyed property. In one Georgia case, a mother was not liable where her unlicensed teenage son stole her car keys and got in an accident, because there was no evidence the son’s actions were reckless. Jackson v. Moore, 190 Ga. App. 329, 378 S.E.2d 726 (1989).
The monster-sized issue for liability is that Kawades knew their son was an Inhuman whose drawings summoned monsters. The act of drawing a picture is not willful or malicious, however, having the knowledge that said drawing would summon a monster would be willful conduct. While there is a strong defense that the first time a monster appeared was not foreseeable, the parents would know of the danger after the first incident. Allowing Kei to draw with that knowledge arguably is a willful and malicious act.
I am very excited to be presenting “The Law is With Me and I am One with the Law” at Nerd Nite LA on March, 9, 2017, for a “Ted Talk” style discussion on the top legal issues from Star Wars, including The Force Awakens and Rogue One. Below is a description of the program:
“Star Wars” has inspired audiences, and lawyers, for over 40 years. The Law is With Me will cover top legal issues from “Star Wars,” including, was Han Solo right to shoot first? Does Rey have a lawful claim to Luke Skywalker’s original lightsaber? Did Director Krennic commit a war crime destroying Jedha? Just who were the rightful owners of R2-D2 and C-3PO? Join us and learn the ways of the Law.
If you are in Los Angeles would like to attend, Nerd Nite is at Busby’s East, 5364 Wilshire Blvd. Tickets are available at Ticketfly.
With the movie Logan already making its mark, it’s no secret that X-23 (a.k.a. Laura Kinney) is one of the main characters. As Professor Xavier states, this girl is “a lot like [Logan].” The intricate relationship between Logan (Wolverine) and X-23 has been extensively covered in the comic books, but that does not make it any less convoluted.
In the after credit scene of X-Men Apocalypse we see individuals from Essex Corp collecting Wolverine’s blood at the Weapon X facility. This scene is likely the connecting factor between the new X-Men timeline and the events of Logan. The inference is that somehow, Nathaniel Essex, or at least his corporation, somehow had a hand in the making of X-23. In the comic books, X-23 gets her name because the DNA sample from Wolverine is damaged. The only part they are able to successfully recover is his X chromosome. As a result, any successful attempt at cloning him was restricted to female clones. X-23 was the 23rd attempt at creating such a clone. So, unbeknownst to Wolverine, he has a clone running around with his DNA. The question is, does he have custody over this clone like a child? Or does he have any legal basis to claim paternity?
Property over Parenthood
The first hurdle is whether or not X-23 can be considered a person. In the case of Toybiz Inc. v. United States the United States Court of International Trade ruled that the X-Men were considered “nonhuman creatures.” No. 96-10 (Ct. Int’l Trade 2003). In this sense there may be an argument that no mutant actually has “human rights.” This case however, was not about civil rights and focused on whether or not the X-men action figures were classified as “toys” or “dolls” for import duty purposes.
Specific to X-23, the fact is that Essex Corp created her in a lab, not as an instance of an in vitro fertilization procedure or surrogacy agreement, but with specific DNA to create a specific result. In some jurisdictions the courts have allowed for the patenting of a specific DNA strain to create a specific result. The best example is the Oncomouse. The Oncomouse, or Harvard Mouse, is a laboratory mouse that was genetically modified by Harvard University professors to make it more susceptible to getting cancer. In this way, the mouse had been used for multiple research experiments since the 1980’s. However, Harvard was not always successful in getting its patent.
While the patent application was granted in the United States without ever having to go to Court, there was significantly more fanfare in the Canadian patent system. Originally, the Canadian Court’s denied the patent application in the case of Harvard College v. Canada (Commissioner of Patents),  4 SCR 45 Docket No. 28155. In that case the Court held that a higher life form could not be patentable because it was not a “composition of matter” in the definition of invention under the Patent Act. After the ruling by Canada’s Supreme Court, the patent application was granted after it was amended to exclude the “composition of matter” claims.
In this vein of thought, some courts may not consider mutants to be human per se. As a result, Wolverine would not be afforded any parental rights in regards to X-23. Instead Wolverine, and any other mutant, would be categorized as property. To give him rights within the pretext of the Oncomouse case law would be akin to granting property rights to property.
Custody of Clones
Assuming that mutants in general, including X-23, are afforded human rights, then the next question revolves around the custody of cloned individuals. As you can imagine, at present, there is very limited case law on cloned individuals. After the now famous cloning of Dolly the sheep in 1996, President Clinton ordered for a multidisciplinary panel of experts to study the ethics of cloning and identify the potential implications. As part of this, Nanette Elster wrote an article for the Hofstra law review entitled Who is the Parent in Cloning?. (1999) Hofstra Law Review: Vol. 27: Iss. 3, Article 6. Available at: http://scholarlycommons.law.hofstra.edu/hlr/vol27/iss3/6 . The article ultimately concludes that modern laws are not yet equipped to handle the complex questions involved in the custody of clones. Rather than the two parent model, clones could ostensibly have as many as four, or as few as one parent. Since the time this article was written many states have evolved beyond the presumed two parent model.
Recent Connecticut case law has highlighted the importance of “intended parent,” or parents who sign a valid surrogacy agreement, but have no genetic link to the resulting child. The case of Raftopol v. Ramey, established that in Connecticut, two parents who have a signed surrogacy agreement, thus representing their intention to be parents, can put their names on a child’s birth certificate, even if they have no genetic link to that child. 299 Conn. 681, 12 A.3d 783 (2011). The case of X-23 might be much simpler than this though.
In the case of X-23, there is no surrogacy agreement. In fact, Wolverine was completely unaware that his DNA was being used to create a clone. In the story of X-23: Innocence Lost, the revitalized Weapon X project involved Wolverine’s DNA being taken, unbeknownst to him, and being generated into a viable sample. This sample was then placed in the uterus of Dr. Sarah Kinney to act as the surrogate for X-23. The comic is unclear on whether the fertilized egg belonged to Dr. Kinney, but for the sake of simplicity, we can assume that it was. With these facts, the only two parents X-23 has are Wolverine, and Dr. Kinney. Even without this information, Connecticut law creates the presumption of parental rights with the birth mother, so Dr. Kinney would not have to do anything more to secure her parental rights to X-23.
In the comic books, Dr. Kinney is killed by her own daughter as a result of a triggered rage, planned by the very people Dr. Kinney worked with in order to create X-23. As a result, Wolverine is the only parent left. He must establish his paternity though, as he presumably is not on X-23’s birth certificate (realistically since she is part of a secret quasi-government experiment, she may not even have a birth certificate since a paper trail would defeat the purpose of keeping it a secret). To claim paternity for X-23 Wolverine has two options. One would be to file an Acknowledgment of Paternity with Dr. Kinney, while the other option would be to file an action claiming paternity in Connecticut Superior Court. If Wolverine does not know of X-23’s existence until after Dr. Kinney’s death, then option one is out. To complete option two, Wolverine would file a paternity action, and then secure a DNA test.
The DNA test presents another unique problem. X-23’s name comes from the fact her DNA is made up of two of Wolverine’s X chromosomes. As a result, any DNA test will result in a 100% match with her “father.” In all actuality then, Logan’s parents, Elizabeth Howlett and Thomas Logan, would be more like her parents. However, since they have long since been dead, her closest living relatives are Wolverine and interestingly enough, Dog Logan, Thomas Logan’s other son. Despite the fact Wolverine and X-23 would be more like twins, the law does not recognize this as granting Wolverine any more rights than Dog when it comes to custody.
Best Interests of X-23
Ultimately, if Wolverine and Dog Logan both applied to get custody of X-23, the Court would have to take into consideration the best interests of the child. Fish v. Fish, 285 Conn. 24, 28 (2008). The bests interests of the child includes an analysis of 16 factors which the court can consider under Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 46b-56(c), The eleventh factor in that analysis happens to discuss the stability of the child’s proposed residences. If Wolverine and Dog Logan had competing applications for custody, then a Court might be compelled to analyze each applicant’s current residence. For Wolverine, this would be the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, while Dog Logan is the physical education teacher at the Hellfire Academy. Absent a compelling reason otherwise, a court might have a difficult time determining that either one of those residences may be suitable for a young child. For one thing, the Hellfire Academy potentially has on its list of faculty persons with criminal records. A Court could find that this does not present a stable environment.
The Jean Grey School for Higher Learning may not be much better. Although this is the new name of the school, it is still premised on Charles Xavier’s original school, which was a part of X-Mansion. As any Marvel fan knows, X-Mansion has not only been infiltrated on numerous occasions, but it has also been razed more than once. It would be hard for the Court to consider this a stable environment, despite the staff’s uncanny speed and efficiency in reconstruction.
Overall, if X-23 were to be considered a human and not property, it is not clear that Wolverine would be able to get custody of her. In fact, he and his half brother Dog Logan may have the same legal rights to any claim over their “biological sister.” At that point, a court would have the unenviable position of having to decide whether it would be in X-23’s best interests to live in an Academy full of super villains, or to live in a Mansion which tends to implode every other Tuesday. In the grand scheme of things, either option may be preferable to being held captive by a quasi-government organization, so the court would likely have to weigh the factors carefully. I do not envy the Court tasked with this analysis.
My good friend Christine Peek joined me to discuss the civil rights issues in the Power Man and Iron Fist comic. The story by David Walker has a villain with a facial recognition app that alters criminal records of individuals and creates arrest warrants. Christine shared her thoughts on the many legal issues with this fictional app used by vigilantes.
With the release of Superman Returns to Netflix, I thought it’d be the perfect opportunity to talk about the opening scene in which Lex Luthor has billionaires Gertrude Vanderworth sign a last will and testament. This raises some questions. Can a will be valid without witnesses? If so, under what conditions, and are there any challenges to a will drafted and executed under these conditions? In the estate of Gertrude Vanderworth there are legal questions which arise casting doubt on the wills authenticity.
In all states, with the sole exception of Pennsylvania for a will to be valid there must be two witnesses. A beneficiary can sign a will as a witness but they will give up their share of the testator’s (the person that the will is for) estate. Witnesses are usually required so they can validate a will. In Pennsylvania witnesses are not required; this is an important fact as in the movie there are no witnesses able to testify that the decedent (testator after they die) had mental capacity at the signing of the will. DC Comics has a history of being vague about the location of things, presumably to create plot points wherever they may be needed. To keep the discussion interesting, we’ll examine the probate of the Vanderworth estate as if it were within the state of Pennsylvania. Otherwise this will is invalid on execution.
The audience knows that Lex Luthor forged the end of Ms. Vanderworth’s signature as she died during the signing. A testator may direct someone to sign a will in their stead or to use a mark in place of their signature; in these instances, even in Pennsylvania, the will requires two witnesses. So, if the forgery were discovered this would invalidate the will.
The will could be challenged on the basis of “undue influence” and the possibility of fraud which is not required but can fall under the same findings. The legal question here is on how the courts define undue influence. In Pennsylvania the court held that:
“…where the evidence shows (1) bodily infirmity and (2) greatly weakened mental capacity of the testator, and (3) a stranger to the blood of testator, (4) standing in a confidential relation, (5) who is benefited by a will (6) which he has been instrumental in having written, a presumption of undue influence arises. See, Boyd v. Boyd, 66 Pa. 283, 293-94 (1870); Wilson v. Mitchell, 101 Pa. 495 (1882); Stewart Will, 354 Pa. 288, 296, 47 A.2d 204 (1946); Quein Will, 361 Pa. 133, 62 A.2d 909 (1949).”
There is a newer rule that deals with limited intellect but I do not believe that fits the facts of the case. Using the above rule we can examine the facts of the case. Ms. Vanderworth is infirm at the signing of the will she is literally dying. The beneficiary is a stranger to her blood in that they are not related. They shared an intimate marital relation which undoubtedly creates the requirement of confidential relation. Lex Luthor is the sole beneficiary of the will. While we do not see who has written the will it is Mr. Luthor that presents the will to be signed. With these conditions met we turn to the only remaining factor: mental capacity.
Ms. Vanderworth has implied that “others” have sent her messages. This by itself does not prove anything, but if this is out of her character to respond it may be evidence of a weakened mental capacity. Another factor is that she ignores the pleas of her family outside the door to her room. This can show a lack of awareness which can be an indicator a lack of mental capacity.
The judge in this case would also look at the actions surrounding the end of Ms. Vanderworth. Shortly after the signing of the will took place, Mr. Luthor did several things in the span of a few minutes which would bring this into question. He removed a wig, demonstrating he did not present himself in a straitforward manner to Ms. Vanderworth. He frightens one of her heirs with that wig which shows that it was an unexpected reveal. He declares he wants everyone to leave “my house” in a loud manner. The final action taken was bringing the maid with him as he leaves the house. Ms. Vanderworth’s body is not yet cold and he moved onto the maid who showed no surprise or remorse demonstrating a plan of action.
All factors being weighed and the criteria having been met for undue influence, the burden of proof would shift to Mr. Luthor to prove he did not unduly influence Ms. Vanderworth.
Under this analysis it appears that the will executed by Ms. Vanderworth would be deemed invalid under the laws of Pennsylvania due to undue influence and furthermore the will would be invalid in any other state due to the lack of witnesses to Ms. Vanderworth’s testamentary capacity.
It looks like Lex should have just taken out a multimillion dollar insurance policy on Ms. Gertrude Vanderworth. It may not have been as much but it would save him the trouble of probate.
Image: Lex Lurther Image Copyright by Warner Bros. and other respective production studios and distributors. Intended for editorial use only.
For the average Imperial officer, being deemed the “most wanted Imperial war criminal” is pretty low on the list of desirable titles, alongside “Vader Force-choke practice dummy,” “Palpatine dental hygienist,” and “airlock tester.” In the newest Star Wars novel, Aftermath: Empire’s End, the hunt is on for Admiral Sloane, who has just been given that ignominious label by the New Republic (formerly the Rebel Alliance). Sloane’s characterization as a war criminal begs the question: what case does the New Republic have against her?
Rae Sloane, Aftermath, &Life Debt: A Quick Primer
Before we dive into the case against Admiral Sloane, it’s probably wise to catch everyone up who isn’t familiar with her character or the Aftermath trilogy of books. Author Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy follows the struggle between the fledgling New Republic (NR) and remaining Imperial forces following Return of the Jedi. The first novel, Aftermath, was released in late 2015 and was followed by Life Debtin July 2016. The trilogy’s final chapter,Empire’s End, will hit bookshelves on February 21st.
Our resident *alleged* war criminal, Rae Sloane is one of the major figures in the trilogy. Sloane was first introduced in the 2014 novel A New Dawn, and has made appearances throughout new canon material, including in Marvel’s Kanan comic series. Sloane, an unwaveringly loyal career Imperial officer, ascended the ranks to eventually command the Star Destroyer Vigilance during the Battle of Endor. Sloane survived the battle, emerging as one of the Empire’s last truly capable officers. In the wake of Endor, Sloane worked to rally the largest contingent of remaining Imperial forces under her command, becoming the new face of the Empire.
While Admiral Sloane is no tyrant or fanatical lunatic, a sequence of events in Life Debt end up painting a target squarely on her back. As the apparent commander of remaining Imperial forces, Sloane requests peace talks with the NR. The NR leaders agree to the meeting, seeing it as an opportunity to finally end the bloody conflict. In reality, the talks are intended as a ruse as the Empire launches an attack on the NR capital world of Chandrila. While Sloane knows that the peace talks are a sham, she does not know the full details of the attack plan, which was devised by a mysterious Imperial named Gallius Rax.
The peace talks coincide with a grand celebration on Chandrila commemorating the recent liberation of dozens of Rebel prisoners from a vile Imperial black site prison. Admiral Sloane travels to Chandrila and watches the celebration with Mon Mothma and other Rebel leaders, expecting the Imperial fleet to appear and unleash hell at any moment.
Instead, the former prisoners suddenly draw blasters and begin firing on civilians and Rebel leaders, including Mon Mothma. Admiral Sloane is caught off-guard by the method of attack, having expected a conventional military assault. As chaos erupts, she flees and battles with Norra Wexley, a NR pilot and central character who tries to capture her. Sloane manages to escape, escaping the planet in a cargo ship. In an ensuing investigation, the NR discovers that the former prisoners each had small biological implants that caused them to attack on command. The investigation revealed that an undercover Imperial agent on Chandrila had supplied concealable blasters to the prisoners and then triggered the prisoners’ implants, sparking the ambush.
The NR concludes that Sloane was involved in the ambush, which quickly earns her the vaunted title of most wanted Imperial war criminal.
War Crimes 101
Before we go and put the hovercart before the bantha, lets take a look at what is meant by the term “war crime.” The law of war sets forth a mixture of rules, requirements, and prohibitions that collectively govern how war is waged. Those rules help set the boundary between lawful and unlawful acts on the battlefield. Think of them like the instructions on the inside of a board game box that tell you how to play the game. The U.S. Army’s Field Manual 27-10, which covers the law of warfare, defines war crimes as violations of the law of war by military or civilian persons. In other words, if you break one of the rules, it can be considered a war crime.
However, not every act by the enemy on the battlefield is considered a war crime. Merely fighting as part of the enemy force does not automatically make you a war criminal. Instead, you have to violate the law of war in some fashion to commit a war crime. For example, if Admiral Sloane ordered the Vigilance to unleash its turbolasers and engage the Rebel fleet at Endor, that order would not, by itself, make her a war criminal. She would be lawfully fighting the enemy and defending her ship. On the other hand, as we’ve seen before, Tarkin’s use of the Death Star to obliterate a planet full of civilians on Alderaan would cross the line and be considered a war crime.
With that in mind, the NR isn’t hunting Admiral Sloane as a war criminal simply because she fights for the Empire. Instead, she is pursued for her role in the ambush on Chandrila, which was an attack fraught with potential law of war violations.
Faking the Truce
If the NR captured NR and put her before a war crimes tribunal, prosecutors would lead off the charges with an accusation that she improperly used a flag of truce. Flags of truce are used as a way to ask to talk to the enemy, usually to negotiate surrender or to arrange some other end to fighting—think of someone waving a white flag and you’re on the right track. Using a flag of surrender or truce to gain some sort of military advantage has long been recognized as a violation of the law of war. The Army’s Field Manual 27-10 lists it as a customary war crime, while Article 8 of the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute recognizes it as a serious breach of the law of war. Violating this rule is taken so seriously because it is a measure that helps bring an end conflicts. When a flag of truce is abused, especially to spring a sneak attack, opponents rapidly lose trust, which inevitably drags out the conflict.
Admiral Sloane would undoubtedly be accused of using the peace talks on Chandrila as a thinly veiled feint designed to help the Empire’s ambush succeed. Sloane’s communication to the NR about peace talks would be a prime prosecution exhibit. In the communication, Sloane asks to hold peace talks at the NR capital on Chandrila. Although Sloane did not formally wave around any sort of flag, her request made directly to NR leadership has the same effect.
That same communication would also be valuable evidence for other reasons. In it, Sloane claimed to be responsible for leaking the NR many pieces of highly valuable intelligence that led to some of their largest victories after Endor. Sloane explained that the leaks were intended to eliminate competition and shore up her position within the Empire. Sloane also specifically requested minimal security for the peace talks as a measure of good faith. NR witnesses, including Leia, would testify that Sloane’s posturing made them believe that her offer of truce was genuine. Sloane’s posturing as a Grand Admiral and her assertion about the intelligence leaks seemingly confirmed NR suspicions that she was in command of the largest remaining chunk of Imperial forces. This led NR leaders to believe that Sloane both possessed significant power and authority to legitimately offer peace talks.
While there is clear proof Sloane requested the peace talks, the NR would have a harder time proving that she intended to improperly use the peace talks to set up the ambush. Just as with other crimes, most violations of the law of war require proof of a guilty state of mind, otherwise known as mens rea. Here, it wouldn’t be enough to simply prove that Admiral Sloane requested peace talks prior to the ambush. Prosecutors would have to go further and prove that she intended to falsely request the peace talks.
The NR lacks any sort of powerful direct evidence, such as a confession, to prove that Sloane falsely made the truce request. Instead, they would have to rely on several pieces of circumstantial evidence to make their case. The NR would first point to the tacit link between Sloane and the undercover Imperial agent who triggered the ambush. They would argue that Sloane, as a Grand Admiral and leader of Imperial forces would have logically had knowledge of such a complex and brazen attack.
To support that inference, prosecutors would argue that Sloane used the prospect of a truce to bring NR leadership together. The resulting concentration of high-ranking personnel made for an easier attack. The short time between Sloane’s arrival and the attack would serve as proof that the talks were merely a means to facilitate the attack, as her arrival was arguably the trigger point that brought the intended targets together.
Moreover, Sloane arguably demonstrated her criminal mindset during her escape from Chandrila. Norra Wexley, the NR pilot who chased Sloane, would be a critical witness to this point. Her visible injuries sustained in fierce hand-to-hand combat with Sloane would tell a powerful tale of just how desperate Sloane was to escape the planet. Prosecutors would point out that Sloane would not have run, fought, and stolen a shuttle to escape off world if she had truly come for legitimate peace talks. Using that lattice of circumstantial evidence, prosecutors would contend that Sloane’s sole intent behind organizing the peace talks was to set the conditions for a successful ambush. She therefore should be held criminally liable for improperly using a flag of truce.
The NR would also likely accuse Admiral Sloane of unlawfully and intentionally targeting civilians, including Mon Mothma. Under the law of war, it is unlawful to target or kill civilians who are not taking part in hostilities. Much like using a false flag of truce, the act of intentionally directing attacks against civilians is a serious breach of the law of war that can be severely punished. Given the overriding international desire to protect innocent noncombatants, this is among the most important restrictions in all of international law.
In Sloane’s case, the NR would introduce eyewitness testimony, holorecordings, and other similar evidence to show that scores of civilians, including Mon Mothma, were intentionally targeted in the attack. Footage of Mon Montha and other Chandrilans being shot at point-blank range would serve as a powerful testament to the innocent blood shed that day. However, since Admiral Sloane did not personally fire on any civilians, the real challenge for the NR would be to establish that she should be held criminally liable for the ambush.
The concept of holding commanders liable for the crimes of their subordinates is not new. In the 15th century, Peter Von Hagenbach was held criminally responsible for the acts of his soldiers, who pillaged villages and murdered civilians in Germany. While commanders can certainly be prosecuted for the crimes of their subordinates, that liability has limits. If a commander was not directly involved in a war crime, he must have been derelict in a way that contributed to or failed to prevent the offense to be held responsible. In other words, there must be some linkage between the commander and the crimes.
Following World War II, Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita was convicted for war crimes committed by his Soldiers throughout the Philippines. General Yamashita was not directly involved in the war crimes. Nonetheless, the tribunal concluded that the General knew or should have known about the crimes, given how widespread they were. That connection was enough to hold him responsible for the crimes of his soldiers since he did nothing to stop them. The Geneva Conventions later attempted to establish a firm standard in this area, requiring that a commander “knew, or had information which should have enabled them to conclude” that war crimes were being committed and failed to take measures to stop them.
Since Admiral Sloane did not pull the trigger on any civilian, the NR would be forced to prove that she knew or should have known that innocent civilians would be targeted in the attack. Just like above, the NR faces several gaps in evidence that present a challenge. There is no concrete proof of a direct link between Admiral Sloane and the undercover Imperial agent who triggered the ambush. The NR uncovered no communications between the two and the agent did not confess to taking any orders from Sloane. The NR would be forced to once again rely upon pieces of interlocking circumstantial evidence to prove its case.
Prosecutors would readily use Sloane’s position as Grand Admiral and her self-admitted intelligence leaks to the NR against her. Both serve as evidence of her intimate knowledge of the Empire’s operations and her access to critical information. They would argue that Sloane’s position and access to operational knowledge gave her ample means and opportunity to know about the ambush.
Prosecutors would underscore that argument by hammering upon the timing of Sloane’s visit to Chandrila. Those close timing of Sloane’s “peace talks” and the ambush would be portrayed as a closely coordinated plan, not some mere coincidence. Similarly, Sloane’s role in setting up the talks to draw in NR leadership would also be cast as proof of her intent for the ambush to target civilians such as Mon Mothma. Sloane’s presence on the ground would be attributed to the need to sell the genuineness of the peace talks. Her unwavering loyalty to the Empire and hatred of the Rebellion would be sold as the fuel for her motive a to personally oversee and witness the crippling ambush. Prosecutors would paint the picture that Admiral Sloane intended to carry out a decapitating strike against NR civilian leadership and citizens in the heart of their territory in a desperate attempt to turn the tide of war.
As a result, the NR would have a strong circumstantial case that Admiral Sloane knew that civilians would be intentionally targeted in the ambush and should be held criminally liable.
For Admiral Sloane, the prospect of having everything she worked to achieve twisted around to prove her guilt is reason enough for to keep running. Since Sloane’s star defense witness also happens to be the same shadowy Imperial who set her up to take the fall on Chandrila, the odds that she’ll turn herself in and trust in the New Republic judicial system are approximately 3,720 to 1. In the end, all this talk of a possible Star Wars war crimes tribunal makes the legal geek in me wish Empire’s End would be one big Star Wars legal thriller, complete with Mr. Bones as the wacky (and slightly maniacal) bailiff:
“Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”
-George Santayana (The original version is even more chilling these days: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”)
If you’ve been online in the past few days you’ve probably seen the headlines about Captain America battling former KKK leader David Duke on Twitter (like this one, or this one, or this one, which has the best side-by-side photo comparison). I’m Team Evans in this fight, of course, and have enjoyed watching him take on the awfulness that is Duke. But thanks to a blog post on one of my favorite celebrity gossip websites, LaineyGossip.com, I learned that this isn’t the first time a superhero has taken on the KKK.
And (spoiler alert), the superhero always wins…
The KKK was formed in 1865 in Tennessee in the wake of the Civil War by former Confederate soldiers. This first effort, while terrorizing formerly enslaved people, also targeted Northern judges, teachers, and politicians. Its violence and internal strife, however, caused the KKK to officially “disband” within just a few years. Its decline was also assisted by a federal law, the Enforcement Act of 1871, which was also known as the Ku Klux Klan Act. This law gave the President the authority to suspend the writ of habeas corpus in an effort to fight the KKK and other white supremacy groups.
Unfortunately, the KKK was down but not out. In 1915, The Birth of a Nation was released (known for both its rampant racism and because it was the first 12-reel movie in America). It depicted the Klan as a heroic force (gag), inspiring a William J. Simmons to resuscitate the KKK.
This version of the Klan was shaped by the xenophobic fears many Americans had as a result of the wave of immigrants coming to America at that time, many of whom were Catholic or Jewish. So the KKK focused its animosity not just on African-Americans, but also Catholic and Jewish people. By some accounts, at its peak in the ’20s, the Klan had over 4 million members. By the end of the decade, however, the national Klan structure collapsed, leaving local KKK units independent (with one of the most powerful, in Indiana, run by a serial rapist).
By the end of the second World War, the KKK was in decline. The last of the universally recognized Imperial Wizards, Dr. Samuel Green, died in 1949. While this period in between the rise of the second wave of the Klan and the Klan’s mobilization in response to the Civil Rights Movement was already in a downswing, there were two men — one fictional, one real — and one radio program who helped the downfall of the KKK in the Forties.
From 1940 to 1951, The Adventures of Superman was a popular radio serial, airing 2,088 original episodes during its decade-plus run. During this same time, Stetson Kennedy, a civil rights activist (distantly related to the hat maker), had infiltrated the KKK in order to take it down from the inside. He was inspired, he said, to fight racial terrorism at home because a medical condition had prevented him from fighting in World War II.
Kennedy fed information about the KKK — their activities, their code names — to the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, the Anti-Defamation League, and reporters. But he wanted to do more and realized that Superman could help him. Approaching the producers of the Superman radio program, he proposed a story line in which Superman battled the Klan. The producers agreed, needing a villain to replace Hitler post-WW II, and the “Clan of the Fiery Cross” arc was born:
In the story line, Jimmy Olsen coaches a baseball team. He replaces his top pitcher with a newcomer. The replaced pitcher is angry and is an easy target for the Clan of the Fiery Cross, who offers to intimidate the new pitcher with burning crosses for not being “American” enough. Over sixteen episodes, Superman takes on and defeats the Klan, whose code words and rituals are mocked and demystified in the process.
How much credit Kennedy and Superman deserve for harming the Klan in the ’40s is still a matter of debate, but there can be no dispute that they were fighting on the side of right and they caused harm to the KKK.
Sadly, even Superman couldn’t eradicate the KKK completely and independent KKK groups continued to actively fight against the Civil Rights Movement. It was former KKK members, for example, who were responsible for the terrorist bombing on the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church that killed four girls in 1963. Even late into the 20th Century, KKK groups continued to be active, focusing their terrorism on a number of groups, including Hispanics and homosexuals.
Which brings us back full circle. Superman fought an imaginary Ku Klux Klan back in the 1940s, seriously damaging the KKK in real life. Unfortunately, what’s old is new again and, once again, we have a superhero doing battle with a Klansman. Hopefully for the last time.