Warning: Contains heavy spoilers for the third season of Battlestar Galactica.
When the second Exodus was over and the people rescued from Cylon occupation on New Caprica, then-president Tom Zarek performed the most idiotic of all moves by Executive Order: he legitimized the founding of a Circle of six men and women to try and judge the most notable collaborators of the occupation era. The Circle, as it was called proofing a sense of sincere sincerity, used evidence - witness reports and some looted documents, mostly - to judge the collaborators in question. They met in secrecy. The trial could have only two outcomes: death warrant or release. Guess which one was more likely. After the verdict was passed, the culprit was beaten up, taken into an airlock and got a chance to have his or her say before being flushed into space. No one was ever to hear of the culprits fate as to prevent civil war, and the Circle had only three days to conclude as many trials as they could. Gee, what could possibly go wrong?
|Around his neck: the Medal of Dumbassery, First Class|
Things even went better when you look at who made up this "peers" that should judge the collaborators. There's the one guy, Connor, who lost his son in a raid and wants to kill everyone responsible. There's Colonel Tigh, who lost an eye in detention torture and murdered his wife for freeing him. There's the Chief, a high ranking member of the resistance. There's Anders, another resistance member. There's Seelix, same. And Jean Barolay is essentially Anders' lapdog. All of them have high personal stakes on the other side ruling them unfit to be judges. If you do such a thing, you would need to take people that were with the fleet, because they at least were no first-hand witnesses and could at least try to be impartial. This Circle doesn't even bother. When they have Jammer in the opening moments of the episode in question ("Collaborators"), Connor screams at him and makes him responsible for the death of his son. When Jammer tries to argue that he rescued Cally, Tigh single-handedly turns over the verdict (that was already passed, mind you) in Tyrol's hands, who in turn decides on the whim of the moment by the emotions Jammer is able to ewoke in him. The Roman empererors made better founded decisions when they turned their thumb over the fate of fallen gladiators.
|Depicted: the next appointee for the Supreme Court.|
The whole travesty of this "justice" farce is revealed when we actually witness a session of "The Circle": they have a picture of the culprit and "eye witness reports" that are never even discussed - one of the six judges knows them and tells the rest that they exist, and that's enough to pass judgement on a poor gal that is to be flushed out by "some guys we know" on the ship she is residing, presumably without getting heard by the Circle. Not that it would matter with these guys. Connor then talks himself into rage, telling everyone that they are "so guilty they stink", which prompts Tigh into a show of "mean old man" when he slams Connors head on the table, barking at him that it's about justice, not about revenge. Yeah, I hear you. The real fun starts only ten seconds later when they come to Felix Gaeta, former Chief of Staff for President Baltar.
|With a look that insolent he needs to be guilty!|
Tigh, just finishing his "it's about justice"-speech, is instantly boiling over, personally despising Gaeta and turning into his guilty-routine. Thankfully, Anders grows a conscience and leaves, leaving them one person short of being able to carry out sentences. Unfortunately, Starbuck jumps in, taking the spot, on the express motivation of "hurting someone". Clearly such motivations are best if you want to do some justice, but a person like her was exactly what they were looking for, as Seelix' look at recruiting her shows without a doubt. Starbuch's quick enough to pass judgement, and only the Chief remains as the voice of reason, stating that they have in fact no evidence for Gaeta. Never mind that having evidence was prerequisite for the trail, they're smelling blood. One after the other, they're hammering down on the Chief until he relents and passes a "guilty"-verdict.
Gaeta only survives this because Starbuck decides to be an even bigger arse than usual and tries to humiliate Gaeta before killing him, prompting the Chief to recognize that Gaeta in fact is the only reason anyone is here and alive - he's one of the greatest heroes, and they were about to flush him out the airlock. Gaeta at least had the good taste, albeit not the sense, to give them a despictable look and to decide not to take part in the charade like Jammer did. After the Chief releases Gaeta who then stumbles away, you can clearly read the total ethical collapse in his eyes. They all realize that the other thirteen they killed might as well have been innocent or at least not as guilty as they thought they were in the two minutes they gave each case before deciding the verdict.
|Look in the eyes of justice, Jammer.|
The problem with all this is that we can't just dismiss it as an unbelievable storyline. We can't even dismiss it as a storyline. Things like this happen, and they happen all the time. If we didn't have a state of laws, we would still pass judgement like that. Everytime a child gets raped, everytime a crime happens that we as a society deem as especially outrageous, the demands to make away with fair trials, jurys and laywers grow like weeds. The difference between justice and revenge is a very slim one, and it is impossible to see it when you are personally engaged. That is why the judge and jury must always consist of people that have no personal stakes in the matter. Where you can't find such people, as in the case of a civil war, you might want to do what Roslin did later in the episode: issue a general pardon, because there is no chance anyway to ever get the thing wrapped up by the justice system. She decides to set up a commission to record personal stories, and to let history decide. Whether in the Reconstruction Period in America or after reunification in Germany, the idea of prosecuting those you defeated never led to the results originally intended. It is hard to abandon revenge, but it is the more sensible road, and Battlestar Galactica teaches us that.