Friday, August 30, 2013

Defending the Worst Amongst Us

Greetings All:

I have been away from the blog for about a month, regrets on that.  Part of the reason is for work-related travel and also from being engaged in other endeavors.  I try to put out posts that are of interest to me and I hope those reading it will find the same way, at least to some degree.  I hope that I keep a balance between the serious and the not-so-serious.  Here is one that is of the more serious version.

I recently read the obituary about Jacques Vergès who died on August 15th.  I had never heard of the guy but the headline of the obituary in The New York Times caught my attention.  Here's a photo of the man decked out in his formal court attire, puffing on a cigar.  He has the, "I don't give a f--k what you think of me" expression on his face.  Having read his bio, I think this photo captures the man about as perfectly as possible.

(Photo credit above, fair use claimed-

So who was Jacques Vergès?  He was a French attorney who made a name for himself defending the worst of the worst.  Born in 1922, he came of age during World War II.  He was spared by circumstance from living under Nazi prosecution due to living on one of France's colonial possessions.  He headed to London to fight with de Gaulle’s Free French forces.  After the war, he became a lawyer and a pretty good one at that.  He cut his teeth defending Algerian terrorists, attacking France's colonial policies as much as the evidence against his client.  From there, he moved up from minor league ball to the "Major Leagues" of defending the worst of the worst. As his resume showed, he defended some of the worst out there.  From Klaus Barbie to Pol Pot, (oh, and for good measure, also Carlos the Jackal.)  It was as if he had a file cabinet full of clients who would be on the same dorm floor in Hell.

So why do it?

I'll give you that the attention had something to do with it.  I'm pretty sure the attention had something to do with it.  This was a guy who seemed to relish it.  

I think it is fair to say that he also had a non-selfish motive.  He thought that the "system" was wrong and he wanted to hold them accountable for it.  He had to know his client's cause was hopeless and yet by putting the system on trial, he was able to play prosecutor in the court of public opinion.  It did not help his clients much at sentencing but it sure made for great press.  The photo below is of  Vergès outside the trial of Klaus Barbie.  Here's how "Jake" put it during the Barbie case, speaking to The New York Times

“I practice the ‘defense de la rupture," (an attack on the system of justice as a whole) “My law is to be against all laws. My morality is to be against all morality.”

(Above photo source, fair use claimed-
So here we have a very talented and not at all shy attorney thumbing his nose at the system.  And then there is the bit about defending those who perpetrated evil on a grand scale.  Barbie engaged in acts of barbaric cruelty and cool bureaucratic deportation to death of thousands, including children.  Surely, this man deserved no trial.  In fact, he was tried in absentia  by the French after the war.  The reason for him being absent from his trial was that he was out of the country, Bolivia, to be precise.  Humm, wanted war criminal somehow dodges justice and gets halfway around the world?  Wonder how that happened?

Surprise, surprise, old Klaus had help of folks who were willing to overlook his transgressions (also known as brutal crimes) on the grounds of ideology.  After all, there was a new game in town- The Cold War.  You probably heard that there were anti-communist/anti-Soviet individuals who helped Nazi war criminals get out of dodge.  You may be surprised to hear that our government was in on the act.

Yup, we helped some of the worst of the worst get away.  Although I am leery of what I find online, I discovered this report:  Here's the link:

"In 1983, a 240-page report of the results of a Department of Justice investigation, titled, "Klaus Barbie and the United States Government: A Report to the Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division," was released. This was the U.S. government's first examination of the role that the Counter Intelligence Corps played in postwar Europe. While Allan A. Ryan, director of the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations (OSI) and the author of the report, focused primarily on the Army's relationship with Barbie, he also uncovered the extent of the CIC's rat line and its dealings with Father Dragonovic. The Barbie Report and the declassified documents in the Appendix provide a valuable account of CIC's activities in Germany and Austria.

The report on Klaus Barbie found that U.S. Army Counter-Intelligence Corps officers had employed him, protected him from extradition to France where he was wanted for war crimes, and organized his escape to South America. The report commented that often there is a need for information that necessitates dealing with criminals, former enemies, and other undesirable persons. Lacking an intelligence network targeted against its former ally, the Soviet Union, U.S. intelligence units turned to European anti-Communist resources to fill information gaps. These resources included former German and East European intelligence operatives and East European emigre political groups. Among them were Nazis (including Gestapo and SS members) and members of East European Fascist organizations. They were considered invaluable as informants." 

I found the link to the DOJ report and here is that link:

This report does not directly tie into Vergès' defense of Barbie at trial.  Oh sure, we (the United States) fell into the whole Imperialist camp, but Barbie's defense was more grand, more globally accusing.  It is without merit as far as I am concerned and am glad that Barbie spent his last days dying in a prison hospital.  Still, it is guys like Vergès who keep the system honest.  It is these "trouble-makers" who spare some of their limelight to shine a light on the imperfections of our system.  If we take the time to truly study history, maybe, just maybe we can learn from our mistakes and get better ourselves.  It does not mean we cannot punish the guilty (sorry, Jake, your guy's going to prison), we can.  But perhaps we can skip some of the self-congratulatory comments and go back to reading the other DOJ reports like the Barbie one.  Sadly, there are more than one.

The obituary in The Times is worth reading for this was truly a one-of-a-kind guy.  Here is the link: cannot condone his practices or choice of clients.  Then again, providing the worst amongst us their day in court is a principle that we value.  That principle only has practical application when there is a strong advocate to make the case.  Whatever I think of Jacques Vergès, he was that advocate,...even through a haze of cigar smoke.

Be well my friends,

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Adieu Bug d'éclairage

Greetings All:

This will be a short post but I am inspired to put this out before I adjourn to the deck for the remainder of the evening.  Alas, the lighting bugs or the Bug d'éclairage (don't I just sound so much smarter than my college G.P.A. when I write in French?) will not be joining us.  They, for the season, are retired.

It always is a bit melancholy to see them leave.  It is as if the balloon of internal summer is popped.  A forewarning that the warmth and long, lingering sun will leave us.  Way off in the distance, winter rolls over in his sleep.  While he still slumbers, awake he will.  Such is life.

Summer is a strange season in many ways.  It is perilously short, yet it lasts forever.  I remember the Beach Boys had an album (um, that's a pre-digital recording for you younger readers) entitled, Endless Summer. Who knows, in some ways, perhaps it was.

If you grew up in the Midwest, you likely caught lighting bugs.  You begged mom for a Cool Whip container or a small shoe box to keep them in.  You gently placed your captured bugs there, resting them on grass and weeds harvested from the yard.  In the morning, you let them go and were puzzled why they would neither fly nor light.  Alas, it was not the right time.  The sun was too high, the day too new.

As I look back on those days, I do so with gratitude.  I am grateful for those warm summer nights, of my Dad sitting on the front stoop, a Dutch Masters' cigar burning faithfully in his hand.  I recall when there was a final arbitrator of when it was time to come in, the street light.  But if there were lighting bugs, you might be able to stay in the yard and catch a few.  They were as pretty as harmless.  They were the Able to the Cain of the mosquito.  Then, they were gone.  About the time they left the yard there was the dread of whispers of "Back to School" sales.  Alas, summer was fading.  For all its warmth and fun, it was powerless against the merciless march of the calendar and its battalions of days moving closer to September.  If you were a kid, sad tidings indeed.

Those days are gone and in the final analysis, that is a good thing.  Think about it:  Without the march of time, without the loss of past summers, we are not able to have the falls that follow and the growth of our lives.  I wrote last week about seeing Les Miz and how awesomely wonderful that show was.  Had not those lightning bugs of my past left and time moved forward, I would not have had all those future memories.  You cannot have a future without letting go of the past.  In other words, weep not for the empty shoe box.  It's time has come and gone. 

So it's off to the deck (and maybe a slightly better cigar than what my Pop puffed on those years ago) to enjoy the evening.  Who knows, maybe up on the hill, just barely visible, I might see one final lightning bug.  Then again, if I close my eyes, I can see all of them just fine.  That's good enough for me on this warm summer Saturday night.

Be well my friends.

Hitler Proved Wrong, Four Times Over

Greetings All:

The above photo is of the legendary American sprinter, Jesse Owens, in Berlin at the 1936 Olympics.  Despite Hitler's wild boasts of the supremacy of "Aryan" genetics.  He was sure that his "Master race" would walk away with a huge share of the medals.  As the photo above shows, it did not work out that way.  (Photo credit, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany license, specific attribution: Bundesarchive, Bild 183-G00630/CC-BY-SA.)

Hitler refused to shake Owens' hand (so much for that sportsmanship bit and being a good host).  It is worth noting that Owens received some friendly advice from a German athlete, Luz Long.  That advice might very well have lifted Owens to one of his four medals.  One of his competitors in that event- Luz Long. 

Owens accomplishments were more than a display of athletic ability.  They were a renunciation of the twisted logic and junk science of the Nazis.  On the track, propaganda goes out the window, it's pure ability.  Oh, and there were no syringes to have to get rid of. 

It is good to celebrate the amazing achievements of Jesse Owens.  He was a class act.  As we look back on these Olympics held 77 years ago this week, we can all take pride in how Owens proved how wrong Hitler was.  Master race, huh?  Well, judging by the photo above, Looks like the bronze for you, superman.

...then there was what happened when Owens got home.  From having to ride the service elevator at the Waldorf-Astoria to get to his own reception to FDR's silence in congratulating him, prejudice was alive and well in the United States.  Owens summed up the situation when he said, Hitler didn't snub me – it was FDR who snubbed me. The president didn't even send me a telegram."

Owens was eventually given the status his accomplishments warranted, including being awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1990.  Too bad it came a decade after he died.

Thanks Mr. Owens for what you did for us in Berlin.  Thanks also for your legacy and reminding us what the thrill of victory is all about.  It would have been nice if everyone would have been so willing to celebrate it then as they are now.
Here are a couple of links to this story:

Be well my friends, enjoy the weekend and get outside!