A Fact-Check for the Four-Color World

Monday, January 09, 2006

Wonder Woman: Murderer?

After Wonder Woman #219 and the OMAC Project "Sacrifice" crossover, allegations of murder have surrounded Wonder Woman. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, here's your recap:

It is revealed that Max Lord has secretly been a bad guy for, well, forever. It also turns out that he has been psychicly manipulating Superman's mind in order to bend Supes to Max's will. He ends up taking control of Superman, who has a drawn-out battle with Wonder Woman. The fight winds up at Lord's castle in Switzerland, where he drops his control of Superman long enough to present Diana with the choice of stopping him by fatal means. And Diana chooses to twist Max's head around backwards. Max had also arranged for the moment to be videotaped, and the film was broadcast worldwide after his death.

So in Wonder Woman #222, Diana turned herself in to the Hague, Netherlands, so that she might be tried for murder by the World Court.

The World Court is another name for the International Court of Justice. But the ICJ does not handle criminal cases; its role is to resolve legal disputes brought to it by states. The worldwide court for criminal actions is the International Criminal Court, which is also located in the Hague. It has been controversial in American politics, largely because of questions of who the Court might exercise jurisdiction over. What happens if the ICC started defining 'war crimes' or 'crimes against humanity' a lot broader than we do? Could American soldiers find themselves in front of a foreign tribunal for actions that wouldn't be crimes in this country? This potential uncertainty makes some people wary of the Court.

Still, even the broadest interpretation of the Court's jurisdiction doesn't include what Wonder Woman did. Even if we assume her guilt upfront, she is still only guilty of a single, premeditated murder (and even then under mitigating circumstances). This, on a global scale, is a rather routine crime, and far below the purvue of the ICC. Just imagine the reach the Court would have if it could prosecute every murder committed anywhere, or only every murder that involves a foreigner. The page linked above spells out the Court's limited scope:

The Court's jurisdiction will be limited to the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole. It will therefore have jurisdiction with respect to the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, all of which are fully defined in the Statute and further elaborated by the Elements of Crimes.

Nope, nothing about individual murders. So where should Wonder Woman be tried? There are two possibilities. One is Switzerland, the country where the alleged crime took place. This would be the most natural venue, especially since Diana is willing to submit herself to the proceedings. Thus, whatever kind of extradition agreement may or may not exist between Switzerland and Themyscira, it seems that Wonder Woman would have been willing to turn herself over to a Swiss court.

And before anyone says "diplomatic immunity," I've addressed that before. My understanding is that Themyscira wouldn't object to a waiver of any immunity. Besides, I'm not sure "Ambassador to Man's World" would be a recognized diplomatic position in Switzerland anyway.

The second possibilty for a trial venue would be Themyscira itself. Paradise Island could, if it so chose, try a citizen of their own for a crime committed elsewhere. Apparently they're more forgiving than the ICJ and chose not to punish Diana, even if they're still willing to let her voluntarily submit to trial elsewhere.

So the case is in the wrong court, but the question that seems to intrigue most people is whether Diana committed murder or not. For those who care, I don't think she did. I think what we have here was a justifiable homicide, based on self-defense and the defense of others. Diana reasonably believed that she and others (and given Superman's powers, that implies a lot of others) were in mortal danger, and she reacted accordingly. It doesn't terribly matter if other, less fatal options were conceivable; Maxwell Lord presented a lethal threat, and Diana responded with lethal force. It was a reasonable response under the circumstances. Given all the evidence, I wouldn't convict her.

However, this doesn't mean that I think a criminal investigation and maybe even a trial (albeit not a trial at the ICC) is out of order. Remember, as the omniscient reader, we have access to a lot of information that a DCU court would not. Taken from their perspective, they have seen video footage of the crime itself (which doesn't help Diana) and probably testimony from Diana's superhero friends (who are probably a little biased). Given the evidence available, I can see why an investigation would be merited. And given Europe's general attitude toward the death penalty, I would imagine they might not be as willing to let a supervillain's execution pass with as little objection as we might let it.

Random final thought: imagine that Wonder Woman was convicted and sentenced to death (even though they don't have the death penalty in Europe). How would Diana be executed? Does Wonder Woman have a weakness like Superman's Kryptonite or J'onn's fire? What means would it take to kill her efficiently? The Purple Death Ray, perhaps?

(And if I've gotten any details about the issues wrong above, please forgive me. I'm reviewing this storyline largely based on what I can remember from reading the material several weeks ago.)