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Shameful, Pathetic, Inappropriate, Tasteless

Posted by stoptorture on May 1st, 2007

I wanted to comment on a response to our protest, posted by a visitor to our friend Andrea Saenz’s blog. It is typical of a small number of comments or blog posts that have cropped up, from students who think our actions against the Attorney General were inappropriate and in poor taste. I should say, though, that this particular comment is extremely mild in comparison to some of the posts out there, many of which pitch personal and vileful attacks on some of the students involved. Click here , here , here and here for the most intelligent and thoughtful criticisms of fellow protester, Thomas Becker. To save myself further blogger’s breath, I thought it worthwhile to post a student’s comment and my reply below:

Disapproving HLS Student:

Sadly, it is the students of the law school who dropped the ball and not Gonzales. We acted like idiots and embarased the institution with this childish partisan demonstration. I thought this school was better than that, and can show respect for anyone who comes here. This is supposed to be an academic institution open to freedom and inviting to anyone who wants to come avail themselves of it. Especially prominenet governmental figures coming bach for a class reunion. This is shameful and pathetic. Posted by: | April 30, 2007 at 09:03 AM


The demonstration was not partisan. The only positions it took were against torture, indefinite detention, and the use of state power and the legal profession to subvert the rule of law. I would have demonstrated with the same vehemence against the Attorney General if he were a Democrat.

These are not partisan issues. They are issues of legality, morality, and professional ethics, and the AG has failed on all counts. While the architects of these criminal policies are most directly to blame — and in this case, they happen to be Republican — I also hold in contempt both the Democrats and Republicans who have not done everything within their political power to put an end to these policies. I vote in NJ, and Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, both Democrats, voted for the Military Commissions Act. I published a letter in the Trenton Times renouncing my affiliation with the Democratic Party, and I can safely say that I will never vote for them again.

The use of torture is a violation of domestic, international, and humanitarian law. It applies to all state officials, red and blue. And all who sit by and watch in silence, whether they be public or private citizens, are acquiescing and playing their own small part in the web of complicity.

Furthermore, none of us ever said that the Attorney General did not have a right to come to his reunion. All we did was exercise our right to express that he was not welcome there. While we obviously cannot represent the sentiments of the whole school (some, like you, disagree with us), there are many others who do agree with us, and they have thanked us profusely for voicing that sentiment.

A very small minority of students have called our actions “shameful,” “pathetic,” “inappropriate,” or “tasteless.” One student expressed that this was the Attorney General’s “quiet time” and that we should respect it.My response is that creating policies that authorize the torture, cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, and indefinite detention of hundreds of human beings is worse than all the adjectives above. It is immoral and, most clearly, illegal.

The Attorney General should be prosecuted for war crimes. But as long as he remains Attorney General, and as long as the President remains in power, he will not be brought to justice. Therefore this was not an action to protest policy we simply disagree with — although we would have had a right to do that as well. As the children of the disappeared in Argentina said, at a time of impunity, when those responsible for the kidnapping and murder of their parents roamed free on the streets: “Where there is no justice, let there be shame.”

Finally, I would say to those students: “shameful,” “pathetic,” and “tasteless” is the sharing of drinks, smiles, and niceties with this man, while human beings continue to be severely harmed thanks to his policies, and the law in the most influential democracy in the world continues to be corrupted thanks to his actions. Shameful, pathetic, tasteless — and immoral, disgusting, and tragic is to sit in silence reading Constitutional Law while that man strolls through the library of your legal institution.

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26 Responses to “Shameful, Pathetic, Inappropriate, Tasteless”

  1. JammieWearingFool Says:

    Why do you love terrorists?

  2. stoptorture Says:

    Why do you hate the rule of law?

    I condemn acts of terrorism that hurt and kill human beings, and I believe that upholding the rule of law is essential to subverting such acts.

    Those who use violence against humans to achieve political ends should be brought to justice. Those who are not guilty of such acts should be freed. For both of these cases, we need an impartial system of law — to determine whether the person detained is indeed guilty, and then to mete out a just sentence.

    A just sentence is one that respects the rights of the victim, the victim’s family, and the larger affected community; incapacitates the perpetrator from committing further acts; and serves to deter the commission of future acts by others.

    A just sentence does not degrade the human being sentenced, no matter how heinous the act committed, because the degradation of the human being by the state degrades the larger society and, in fact, ultimately produces more terrorists.

    The essence of justice is equality before the law. You can’t pick and choose among people and principles. Either we all get it all, or none of us get a thing.

  3. spd rdr Says:

    At any time should you care to debate the extraordinary legal issues surrounding the Military Commissions Act, and then you can have my ear. But I am loathe to engage those so simple-minded as to honestly believe that a law student dressed up in a costume so as to “embarrass” the Attorney General of the United States would further the cause of justice. Leave those pie-in-the-sky antics to the undergrads. You are about to become LAWYERS, the bulwark of freedom. This particular Act is the equivalent of constitutional trench warfare, and its time to get serious, ladies and gentlemen, because you must.

    If you truly want to be relevant, then you pick each legal battle carefully, stage the best course to win, and then MAKE THE BETTER ARGUMENT. In each case you should expect to lose, but you must not ever anticipate that outcome. Winning the argument is what lawyers prepare for…

    Historically this isn’t anything new. Study the NAACP’s legal strategy to forcing a decision on Brown. Read “Laws as Harsh as Tigers” about how the Asian immigrants fought a legal system that was completely set against them. There truly are champions out there worth studying. In the interim, you’ve got to stop sabotaging your own message.

    Look, I apologize if you and your friends are offended by my complete and utter disdain of Mr. Becker’s recent silly and juvenile public display. I believe that it was pointless and counter-productive. But I am not here to beat up on you. Mr. Becker may disagree with my assessment of his actions, and he is free to counter them on his own. I would remind you, however, that one is subject to public ridicule when one makes a public spectacle of his or her self, and then has the audacity to declare such a spectacle a success as proved by press reports. See, e.g., George Bush, “Mission Accomplished.” Lie down with dogs. Wake up with fleas. That’s your future profession.

    There are many great legal minds at Harvard right now, and you might be among those to follow in their footsteps. I would like to think that, by my own harsh rebukes, that I’ve contributed to your understanding – albeit, by shock – of what will be expected of you as an attorney when you are at able in your professor’s estimation. Thin skins need not apply.

    The law is not a game to be played by children. It is not a game at all. It is a life that someone else must lead.

    Now. Go, and do good.

  4. spd_rdr Says:

    And, by the way, “vileful” is not a word used in the English language. Typos are one thing, grammar is another.
    Sharpen it up or become used to being very embarassed.

  5. IcemanCometh Says:

    Time to stop shouting down and throwing pies at everyone you disagree with. Higher education is supposed to be an open forum, yet we see just how closed that forum is every time a conservative tries to walk on to hallowed ground just to speak.

    Larry Sommers getting fired, and now the treatment of Gonzales and Mueller, invited guests trying to speak, nothing more.

    Again, we hear the overtures of “non-partisan” protest, as if they are coming from a memo-clutching Dan Rather, but time and again, it is conservatives chased off of campus by a group of anti-free speech left wing thugs trying to curtail debate.


  6. stoptorture Says:

    Written by a busy law student who speaks English as her second language, enjoys unconventional forms of expression, and is currently studying for finals. If you cannot tolerate the occasional grammatical error or irreverence, please do not proceed.

    Iceman, either you didn’t read the post or you don’t care about actually responding to the points I raised. Of course, you have every right to make unrelated points — that’s the beauty of blogging — but it’s dishonest to pretend that you actually address my arguments.

    I made quite clear that I wasn’t protesting a policy that I simply “disagree” with. I was protesting the criminal acts of a powerful man, a man whose position of power and influence currently prevents him from being prosecuted, which in turn, prevents justice from being served.

    This country has a policy of incarcerating people for all sorts of behavior, ranging from minor drug possession to homicide. The people who end up behind bars, for better or for worse, temporarily lose their right to stroll Ivy League campuses and take pictures with old friends. I believe that if justice were to be done in this country, the Attorney General would be behind bars, without that right and many others.

    I believe that he should be indicted, tried fairly, and given the evidence against him, my prediction is that he would be convicted. Because the political situation in this country precludes this trial from occurring, I am left with few options. Shaming him is one of them. Trust me when I say that this is not satisfying to me. I would much rather have justice. But until that day arrives, I will keep protesting.

    Althogh I reserve the right to do the same with other kinds of visitors (those whose politics, while legal, I find abhorrent), I would likely protest them in a different way, probably with less vehemence and with different goals. The presence of Alan Dershowitz on my campus, for example, makes my skin crawl, but I do not protest in a hood outside his door every day. I find his ideas dangerous and misguided, and even believe they have contributed to the physical harm of human beings. But I make a distinction between the architect of a criminal policy and the academic who helps legitimize it. Both are loathsome, but the levels of responsibility are different, and each merits a different kind of advocacy.

    In any event, I disagree with your assessment of the academic forum. The academic forum, at least at Harvard, is indeed open. Open enough that the AG could attend his reunion. Open enough for some students to tell him that he is not welcome. Open enough for other students to join in the sentiment. Open enough for yet another handful of students to tell the crowd to be quiet and let them read.

    No one is advocating that Gonzales be institutionally barred from entering, or even speaking on campus. The university should be free to invite whomever it chooses. In turn, the students, alumni, faculty should be free to voice their reactions to those choices.

    If there is any indication that the forum isn’t open enough, it comes from the small chatter of voices chiding us for daring to exercise a *different* mode of expression. Mr. Spud’s posting serves as an excellent example of the perception, held by many in the legal community, that practicing law is something you do only in a court, using full sentences, and wearing a suit and bowtie. (Just a wild guess about the bowtie, Mr. Spud. I am a UVA grad after all.)

    I disagree. There is more to the picture, and there always has been. While the NAACP lawyers were absolutely essential to the civil rights movement, their victories would have meant little without the rallies, sit-ins, boycotts, and protests that surged through the country.
    Harvard Law School is doing its best to teach me the suited-up version of the law. I wrote a good memo on the constitutional rights of a man, a GTMO prisoner, not to be transferred into the custody of the Libyan government, where he will likely be tortured. I can argue the finer points of how the U.S. government is in violation of numerous treaty obligations, and even its own legislation. But the district court would not hear the arguments. The circuit court would not hear the arguments. Finally, this past Monday, the Supreme Court would not hear the arguments. And so off goes my client, to Ghadaffi’s torture chambers. And so it goes.

    I would love nothing more than to hear my arguments being made in a court. But there is no court that will let us in.

    Congress, on the other hand, can still be made to listen. What we are trying to do, through public mobilization, legislative advocacy, and media work is to capture the attention of our representatives and show them that people in this country want, at the very least, to reopen the courts. We did not have much time to plan a response to the Attorney General’s presence on our campus, but what we did garnered us worldwide media coverage. Our 3-day sit-in and letter-writing campaign did not. We have no idea if this will have even a small impact in the long-run — I’m guessing probably not — but at least it sparked discussions on campus, on blogs, at dinner tables. And maybe, if we’re at all lucky, it let some Congresspeople know that some students at an establishment law school vehemently disagree with the status quo.

    I welcome suggestions on other advocacy strategies, because I agree that protesting is far from enough. But I refuse to limit my vision to courts that have consistently barred our entry. I will not wait in silence another year and ignore the fact that while I sharpen legal arguments, hundreds of men will lose one more drop of sanity in the hell of indefinite detention and isolation. I will not wait patiently while others are shackled, strapped into planes, and sent to regimes that do the torturing and killing even better than we do.

    It’s the advice given to me by the Lawyers, of the very same kind that Mr. Spud respects most: those who have spent years filing piles of motions that the courts will not read. Politics and law are intertwined, and they always have been.

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