A Lovely Promise
Human rights, war and peace, politics, and gardening.
Smithers: Are those tears, sir? The label specifically says 'No more tears'.
Mr. Burns: A lovely promise, but one beyond the powers of a mere shampoo...
Monday, April 20, 2009
Friday, April 03, 2009
It takes all kinds.
Throughout my life, I've had the experience of bridging different 'worlds'. It started young, when we lived in Bavaria for a year. Immersed through attendance at a Catholic nursery school, I quickly became fluent in the local dialect, and acted as interpreter, linguistic and cultural, for my mother; at school I was a little ambassador for Amerika. Once back home in a community sharply divided between college town and agricultural county, I was part of a tiny minority of town-centric students in my county school. I was the only child at Sunday school or in my Brownie troop to stick up for county kids -- my neighborhood and school friends -- when townies made redneck jokes. I was also the only member of the 4-H club to do my exhibit project on ornamental hollies...
Later on, as an LBJ-liberal southerner at a northern Quaker high school divided internally between 'jocks' and 'artsy-craftsies', I was unusual in having friends in both camps. As I got involved in political work, it seemed I was always the radical among liberals or the moderate among radicals. Bridging the gulf between election-focused and movement activists has been a long-standing tension.
This lifetime of straddling has sharpened my ability to see the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches, and the usefulness of having a variety of approaches overall.
That said, I find myself lately at a low ebb in my appreciation for "process liberals." Familiarity gained by yoking myself to them over the last seven years in the broad anti-Bush/Cheney coalition has inevitably bred a bit of contempt.
Human rights, specifically the issue of torture, is what brought me into political work and continues to motivate me. The record of just who stood up for what principles and when over the last fifteen years has been instructive. Those who didn't shrink from voicing their darkest suspicions early on out of concern for being thought unreasonable or "reflexive America-haters" were proved right, and quickly. Those who stepped up to take on the cases of people accused of terrorism when doing so was beyond unpopular -- considered treasonous, even -- have my undying respect.
I trimmed my own sails for several months after September 2001, trying to see things from the centrists' view well enough to make myself effective in communicating to them the wrongness of wars of choice and of endless, lawless, unreviewable detention. I've not only used pragmatic arguments but tried to help others learn when and how to make them. But for some time now, an inner Nell has been curling her lip and saying, "Fvck that noise."
Which brings me to Clive Stafford-Smith and Reprieve.
Stafford Smith's career m.o. involves publicity and showboating, but always for a point, and to good purpose. I don't doubt that his actions sometimes make other Guantanamo lawyers wince. But without someone with his chutzpah, we'd be much more in the dark than we are about the crimes committed by the U.S. and U.K. authorities and their accomplice states. In a system of lawless dictatorship and Catch-22 -- the system in which the prison at Guantanamo was established, and from which it has yet to break free -- there has to be a Yossarian or two.
Hilzoy (of Obsidian Wings and Washington Monthly), someone who exemplifies the best and the most maddening qualities of process liberals, posted this back in February:
[Binyam] Mohamed's lawyer has alleged that DoD officials censored a letter that he sent to Barack Obama about what his client had gone through. His evidence seems to be that he got a redacted copy of the letter back. ... does it sound plausible that some DoD official could have blacked out these pages in order to keep Obama from seeing them and succeeded? The President can see any classified information he wants. And if I were trying to prevent him from seeing something, handing him a letter with two pages blacked out would not be my method of choice.
In comments to that post I responded:
Good on Clive Stafford [Smith] for publicizing the Kafka-esque redaction of his own client's [history]. By posing the question of whether the information in it was kept from Obama, he implictly raises the serious issue of Obama's obligations should he become undeniably aware of what was done to Mohamed at the behest of the U.S. government.
Now the Pentagon's privilege review team has confirmed my reading of their purpose in redacting the memo (to give Obama plausible deniability of the knowledge of the U.S. crimes), by retaliating against Stafford Smith for publishing it:
Lawyers for Binyam Mohamed face the incredible prospect of a six-month jail sentence in America after writing a letter to President Obama detailing their client's allegations of torture by US agents.
Clive Stafford Smith, director of legal charity Reprieve, and his colleague Ahmed Ghappour have been summoned to appear before a Washington court on May 11 after a complaint was made by the privilege review team ... [who] argue that by releasing the redacted memo Reprieve has breached the rules that govern Guantánamo lawyers and have made a complaint to the court of "unprofessional conduct".
There are significant differences among Guantanamo defense lawyers in their adherence to the letter and spirit of the rules laid down by the Department of Defense. But I imagine that even those lawyers who've been most circumspect about complying would agree that the rules and the enforcement of them by the privilege review team have been arbitrary, punitive, petty, and abusive over the last seven years. Granting the lawless jailers legitimacy at all is a grim necessity of functioning as a lawyer in such a repressive system; giving them the benefit of the doubt and attributing decent motivations to them means being played for a fool.
Thanks be for seriously un-foolish jesters like Clive Stafford Smith. He deserves support and gratitude, not sniffy diffidence.
Cross-posted to A Tiny Revolution