09 November 2007

Local Lawyers Protest and Miss the Point

On a couple of occasions recently [1] [2] I have posted on the irony that American lawyers seem to be remarkably quiescent in the face of threats to the rule of law in the U.S.. This point was brought home again yesterday by a protest coordinated by the Monroe County Bar Association in Rochester yesterday. The unattributed photograph above, showing local attorneys marching in protest to the Hall of Justice here, comes from the MCBA pages. Here is the accompanying announcement:

MCBA News Flash: Solidarity For Pakistani Lawyers

Members of the Rochester judicial community marched to the
Hall of Justice Thursday, Nov. 8, in support of their colleagues
in Pakistan. The local rally was to show solidarity for the judges
and lawyers arrested by the Pakistani military.

Make no mistake. I think this show of solidarity is admirable. I especially find the language of solidarity heartening. Not surprisingly the local newspaper seems not to have covered the event but I did hear a brief mention on our local npr station on my drive home last noght.

Still, the local attorneys miss the point, I think. In her most recent column in The Nation Patricia Williams draws the same parallel I have tried to make between subversion of the constitution in far-away places and the real subversion of judicial independence and the rule of law here at home. Of course, Alberto Gonzalas has now departed the administration. But we are no closer really to determining the various ways BushCo have tried to clean out the Justice Department. And the Senate controlled by Democrats has confirmed Michael Mukasey to replace the unlamented Alberto. As Williams notes:

"Until recently, torture was about the only thing every
nation on earth condemned. Until recently, there were no such
equivocations about it. And until recently, "democracy"
meant something other than the power of unchecked
violence wielded by either a strongman or a unitary executive.

. . . Judge Mukasey cuts a . . . fetching figure, in
or out of his judicial robes. He testifies in dulcet,
measured tones. His voice is reassuring
and measured. He lays claim to the high ground of
not prejudging any issue. Torture? Couldn't say...
How reasonable his demeanor. How rude it would be to
jump up and shout, 'Hold on! You want to be the Attorney
General? And you don't have a clear stance on
waterboarding? How about hooding? Dogs chewing
on limbs? Electrodes on genitals? And while we're at it,
is cannibalism beyond your pale?'"

Why do the MCBA folks not find the continued shenanegans of the Bush Administration (and, of course, their enablers among the putatively oppostional Democrats) worth protesting? Is injustice something we can speak out against only when it occurs in exotic places? After all the Mukasey confirmation was enabled quite shamefully by our own Democratic senior Senator from New York. Where were the protests and political actions aimed at Schumer?



Anonymous Dawei from Beijing said...

"Until recently, torture was about the only thing every
nation on earth condemned."

That's baloney.

Not only is torture routine in most countries but it is still practiced today in developed nations like South Africa, Israel, and even Germany (given the right circumstances), not to mention Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Russia, China, etc. America's aversion to the use of torture prior to Bush was an aberration and not the norm, and every serious discussion should begin with that point.

09 November, 2007 17:05  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Perhaps there are lots of countries (including the US and its surrogates) that practiced torture and other sorts of 'cruel & unusual' punishment. But are there actually countries who publically admitted to so doing? Are there countries who would not (hypopcritically, perhaps) not condemn such practices when compelled to recognize them? NGOs like Amnesty Internaiotnal & Human RIghts Watch regularly hold officail feet to the fire on this with some success. And even official entitites like the US State Dept. us reports from AI or HRW to criticize the behavior of other regimes.

I don't think Williams is wrong on this. She is, I think, saying that there is no country that would publically advocate torture (e.g., the Israeli supreme court enjoined the government from engaging in certain sorts of abusive practice). The matter is one of differentiating between what states practice (behind closed doors) and what they preach. And there is near unanimity, I suspect, in preaching respect for prohibitions against torture, etc..

09 November, 2007 17:33  
Anonymous Dawei from Beijing said...

So her beef is that countries like Belarus and Zimbabwe used to pretend torture is amoral and now they don't? Silly.

09 November, 2007 20:58  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Actually not so silly. Once regimes take public stances on issues of human rights (including rights against torture) it is possible to try to hold them to their "principles." And in the end, I do not care whether they are sincere if their public pronouncements render them susceptible to public campaigns. I am after consequences not motivations.

We don't have to worry about Zimbabwe & Belaruse; lets talk about the US and how eager Bush is to insist that "We don't torture." Everyone knows that is bullshit and has been since well before we were all so "shocked" by Abu Ghraib. Bush cannot come out and say 'We are going to apply electrodes to this man's balls in order to elicit information from him.' And that becomes something of a wedge that can be used to push for oversight on interrogation practices that might (just might, no more) constrain the worst abuses.

And, of course, public commitments by say, signing international agreements or supporting prosecution of others for crimes against humanity opens oneself to just such prosecution.

I tend to be a realist on these issues. But Augusto Pinochet, for instance, eventually found that the talk (however hypocritical) about human rights and so forth had some teeth. So too has Henry Kissinger who basically cannot leave the U.S.; Bush and Rumsfeld et. al. will be in the same boat soon enough.

You might say that such retribution takes years and years. So be it. As the old saying goes: "Revenge is a dish best served cold."

09 November, 2007 23:46  
Anonymous Dawei from Beijing said...

It is silly because unless critics of Bush are willing to put the leaders of Zimbabwe and Belarus, and Saudi Arabia, and Russia, and China, and Uzbekistan, and Iran, and Israel, and Ivory Coast, and Germany, and on and on and on and on, to the same fire this is just bullshit. Perhaps the underlying implication here is that the U.S. is superior and thus should be held to a high standard. That's what it seems like when someone makes the claim that because the U.S. modified its stance on torture or that Bush has used his executive privilege to a greater degree than historically has been the case, that democracy is meaningless and there are no more condemnations of torture. That is exactly what is implied below.

"Until recently, torture was about the only thing every
nation on earth condemned. Until recently, there were no such
equivocations about it. And until recently, "democracy"
meant something other than the power of unchecked
violence wielded by either a strongman or a unitary executive."

"Until recently" meaning that once the U.S. modified its positions the whole world just follows along like puppets because the U.S. is the greatest country on the planet and they set the framework of morality. It doesn't get more self-centered than this.

10 November, 2007 00:32  

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