COMMENT About most litigation, experienced lawyers say that a bad settlement is better than a good lawsuit. By this, experienced counsel don't mean settling each dispute quickly and easily.

They say there must be arguments, manoeuvres and threats, right up to the final confrontation. Then - if at all possible - settle.

NONEIt's hard to say if there was tactical foreplay in the prelude to the hearing of former inspector general of police Musa Hassan's defamation suit against Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim that was scheduled for yesterday in the Kuala Lumpur High Court before judicial commissioner Asmabi Mohamad.

But Musa's comments after his lawyers had withdrawn the suit allude to some "misunderstanding" that he said had led to his filing the suit.

Further, Musa is reported to have said that he accepted the "settlement" proposed by Anwar.

In other words, his filing for defamation was due to some misconstruction of the facts in which inadvertence played a greater role than other, perhaps, more sinister motives; and the withdrawal of his action had something to do with ingratiation.

NONEIngratiation by whom, the question inevitably arises. From Musa's comments, it appears that Anwar's side made the moves.

But Anwar's lawyers promptly disavowed this interpretation of the prelude to Musa's withdrawal of his suit.

They said, in a statement released to the press immediately after Musa's remarks became public, that Musa's withdrawal was unconditional and that Anwar's allegations against him that had prompted the plaintiff's action still stood and that Anwar had been ready for the matter to proceed in court yesterday.

Two conflicting narratives

"If you want to know the law and nothing else," mused the famous American Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, "you must look at it as a bad man who cares only for the material consequences which such knowledge enables him to predict, not as a good one who finds his reasons for conduct, whether inside or outside of it, in the vaguer sanctions of conscience."
One can't say for sure that it was fear of the material, and more certainly, the moral consequences of proceeding with the defamation suit that had prompted Musa to withdraw the suit.

But ever since Mat Zain Ibrahim, the police officer who conducted the first investigation of the ‘black eye' incident in which Anwar was beaten while in custody, began weighing in publicly with his versionof what happened in the aforementioned incident, the balance of probabilities, as lawyers are wont to say, has tended to favour Anwar's take on the matter.

Right now, one cannot say for sure if this interpretation is the more credible.

NONEBut had Musa's defamation suit proceeded to trial, and had he submitted to cross-examination, and had Mat Zain been called as a witness, and also Ramli Yusuff (left), the former Commercial Crime investigation chief, who was present when Anwar was beaten up in his cell on Sept 20, 1998, the veil of mystery that shrouds the whole sequence of events before and after Anwar's sacking and detention in that fateful month would lift, surely.

From that standpoint, Musa's withdrawal has harmed the ventilation of events that occurred in a dark and sinister period of our recent history, a period which triggered a concatenation that has conduced to the current moment in our history when the nation's voters are being asked to endorse one of two conflicting narratives.

One is, essentially, Anwar's narrative: that the country is hurting and hurting severely from traumas inflicted on its body politic by Umno-BN's emasculation of its economic and moral sinews.

The other narrative contends that Anwar's version of what ails the country is a defamation propounded by him from self-seeking motives.

Musa weasels out 

There is no better way to evaluate the truth-content of these competing narratives than to put the versions to the test of scrutiny and cross-questioning.

NONEIn that sense, Musa's withdrawal of his defamation suit and consequent avoidance of cross-examination is akin to Prime Minister Najib Razak's weaseling out of the challenge to debate Anwar and submitting his policies and programmes to cross-questioning by an appraising public.

‘Stand and deliver' is an imperative stance in the clash of conflicting testimony in legal warfare, just as it is a compelling position in the battle to get conflicting agendas and policies accepted by adjudicating voters.

But running up the ambiguous colours of a truce and covering the retreat with weasel words such as "misunderstanding" and "settlement" smacks of slip sliding and tiptoeing where forthrightness and truth-telling is imperative and salvific.