Why do ordinary people do appalling things? The political thinker Hannah Arendt coined the phrase “the banality of evil” after watching the 1961 trial of Nazi SS officer Adolf Eichmann to try and answer that question.
Arendt was terribly misunderstood. She didn’t intend to trivialise evil. She didn’t think Eichmann’s evil was ordinary. She meant that Eichmann lacked the capacity to imagine the world from the perspective of another. He lacked the political empathy to understand how his actions affected others.
Eichmann wasn’t thoughtless or stupid. He wasn’t a moron. He was brilliant at what he did.
Glenn Bedingfield isn’t thoughtless or stupid either. He isn’t a moron. He is brilliant at what he does. Except what he does, in Daphne Caurana Galizia’s words, is create “the instrument of government targeting”. What he does, according to the inquiry report, is mercilessly attack a journalist to the point of dehumanisation.
What Bedingfield does, according to the report, is turn people into objects of hate and contempt.
Eichmann wasn’t a monster. He was just an ordinary man. So is Bedingfield, more ordinary than most.
When presented with the appalling suffering he caused, Eichmann was unrepentant. He lacked the most basic and difficult of human emotions, empathy.
Even after the Caruana Galizia inquiry report documented Bedingfield’s role in her systematic harassment and dehumanisation, his response was, “I played absolutely no role in facilitating any murder”. Unrepentant, unapologetic, remorseless even in the face of a horrific assassination. Unwilling to make even the slightest of gestures to the bereaved family, Bedingfield showed no regret.
His justification for his relentless persecution of the journalist was that his was “an equal and opposite reaction”. The inquiry board rubbished this outright. “There was nothing equal in what Bedingfield did to what Caruana Galizia wrote”, the report reads.
The financial strength, influence and power of government was available to Bedingfield to attack Caruana Galizia. Bedingfield, and other government officials, attacked a journalist, while Caruana Galizia was a journalist holding government to account.
As calls for the implementation of the recommendations intensify, Prime Minister Robert Abela vaguely promised to implement them. His offer of an apology, gracefully accepted by the assassinated journalist’s family, brought some much-needed hope. Hope that the impunity that had pervaded regulatory bodies and demolished the rule of law would be reversed.
But Abela’s words sound hollow. Abela retained Bedingfield as parliamentary whip. He kept Bedingfield on the Public Accounts Committee. Despite being roundly condemned by the Board of Inquiry, Abela even retained Bedingfield on the Parliamentary Standards Committee, maybe because of another thing Bedingfield is brilliant at – shielding the string of Labour MPs found guilty of ethics breaches.
From Joseph Muscat to Carmelo Abela to Rosianne Cutajar, Bedingfield used every dastardly trick to provide them with impunity.
When Carmelo Abela was found in breach of ethics, Bedingfield falsely accused the opposition of leaking the report. He called on the Speaker to launch a probe. He refused to turn up for the committee meeting delaying the hearing. But there was no leak.
Newsbook had issued a report indicating that Abela was guilty – not because it had the report but because only reports finding breach of ethics are referred to the committee. Bedingfield surely knew that – but it didn’t stop him making false accusations.
When the report eventually came to a vote for adoption, Bedingfield voted against. Carmelo Abela was let off scot-free, with the helpful abstention of the useful Speaker.
When Rosianne Cutajar was found guilty, Bedingfield created such mayhem, that the Speaker stormed out. When the committee eventually reconvened, Bedingfield voted against adopting the comprehensive report drawn up by the Commissioner. Bedingfield voted for more investigation. But when the Opposition MPs tried calling witnesses, Bedingfield voted against, insisting only the Tax Commissioner should be called first.
While Robert Abela expelled Cutajar from Cabinet with his right hand, his left hand – through Bedingfield – protects her from further punishment, guaranteeing impunity.
Bedingfield is brilliant at other things too. In the Public Accounts Committee he prevented members from asking questions of Paul Apap Bologna. The NAO report concluded that “millions were stolen from taxpayers” on the Electrogas deal. Bedingfield’s interest was not to protect the taxpayer, but to shield Apap Bologna, owner of secret company Kittiwake and recipient of his cut of the €16 million shareholders paid themselves in “success fees”.
Bedingfield even went as far as interrupting one hearing by insisting on reading out the letter of the law and the remit of the committee, aiding Apap Bologna’s lawyer in ensuring her client was let off the hook. Bedingfield wasn’t just protecting Apap Bologna. He was protecting all those involved in the scam – from Konrad Mizzi to Yorgen Fenech, from Keith Schembri to Joseph Muscat.
In his other role as Party Whip and MP, Bedingfield accused Caruana Galizia’s family of “tampering with evidence” and demanded action be taken against the family. He accused them of having no interest in justice. Bedingfield’s callous taunting echoes Robert Abela’s accusations that the mission of the journalist’s children was to hamper investigations.
Abela wrote that “her family are more interested in their disdain for their country than finding those criminals responsible for the assassination”. Abela later retracted his statements. Bedingfield has not.
Self-reflective critical thinking is what conditions us against doing appalling things. It is what helps us recognise our errors and makes us regret and ask forgiveness. This is what is necessary for our country to recover from the terrible tragedy.
Sadly, some will never be able to see the world from the eyes of their victims. Eichmann was one of them. Bedingfield is another. If the thought of a brutally dismembered fellow human being does not make you rethink, nothing will.
One man has the power to prevent Bedingfield from causing more harm. That man can cast Bedingfield aside, paving the way for dismantling the culture of impunity and enable healing to begin. That man is Robert Abela.