>From: "Daniel White"
>Subject: Event at UT, and what it might mean
>Date: Mon, 16 Apr 2007 20:29:49 -0500
>Yesterday, and a bit the evening the day before, the UT School of Law
>had a conference on the Military Commissions Act. I saw a listing of
>it in the Austin Chronicle, and decided to make a day of it and go to
>it and see what was happening. They were providing free meals (3), so
>how could I go wrong?
>Tuesday the keynote speaker, Lt Cdr. Charles Swift, spoke about the
>history of Military Commissions and how the current ones fit into, or don't fit
>into, the past historical useages of them. Swift also made the argument,
>that many other speakers made later on in the panel discussions, that
>what the Bush administration is trying to do with its military
>commissions policies, and in general with its legal practices in the
>GWOT, is to cherry-pick the parts of the law that suit it and ignore
>the parts that don't. Swift argued that in front of the Supreme Court, with the Hamdan
>case, and the Court agreed. Salim Ahmed Hamdan was Osama Bin Laden's
>driver, and was imprisoned in Guantanamo, charged with aiding and
>abetting terrorism. Swift ran his case thru the Federal appelate
>circuit and finally to the Supreme Court. The Court further ruled that
>detainees in Guantanamo have habeas rights, and that the military
>commissions as then formulated violated both the Geneva Conventions and
>the UCMJ. Swift spoke well and movingly about how his efforts in
>Hamdan were just a part of his career professionalism as a JAG attorney, and reflected nothing much other
>than what any serious career legal professional would do. Lots of times
>when you learn something there is the puppy love phase of your
>attraction to what you just got or learned, and Swift's talking about
>the law, and how he worked in it for betterment of the law and the
>institution (the Navy) he worked for had still the ring of puppy love
>to it, idealistic puppy love towards the law and its ideals. I can't
>fault him for that--he's sharp and honest and upright and hardworking,
>which are the key human virtues. Nor can he be faulted for
>naiivity--in the Q & A I asked him about the prior history of military
>commissions in MacArthur's command, with the Yamashita and Homma
>trials, which were an abominable disgrace, a mar on the history of American jurisprudence, and were clearly kangaroo courts manipulated by
>MacArthur's command authority. I asked him if the real objective of the
>Bush administration wasn't implementing justice in this fashion in the
>GWOT, and that's why they picked military tribunals. Swift acknowledged
>the truth of my descriptions of the MacArthur trials, and in his answer
>showed that he had read deeply on these cases. He also pointed out
>that Yamashita's US military counsel was so embittered from the experience that
>he left the US for the rest of his life, something I didn't know. Swift
>went on to point out how good a job the Navy did on its military
>tribunals after the war in Guam, and told of an interesting case that
>required an immense amount of work before it could be successfully
>prosecuted, with the Japanese commander finally being clearly shown as
>guilty of heinous war crimes, and being sentenced to death for them.
>Swift is clearly aware of the abominations of the past, performed under
>the law's aegis, yet still believes in the law as a means of progress.
>Rare attitude that. Whichever law school hires him is doing well by
>its students, and society as well. I wish him luck.
>The next day had four panels concerning role of the courts, definining
>enemy combattants, military commissions, and interrogation practices.
>Most of the panels were quite good, although one in particular suffered
>from one panelists' excessive bloviating, which is a common enough
>problem with lawyers. The morning panels had perhaps twenty attendees
>maximum, many of whom were other panelists in the afternoon panels. In
>the final afternoon panel, UT students finally showed up in some
>numbers--25--and much to the panelists credit they made an effort to
>have them ask questions. There were no members of the press present
>for any of the panels or for any of the post-event discussions.
>Tex, I just am appalled by it. UT Law School put together a bunch of
>the most top-flight legal talent in this country, discussing openly and
>freely what has to be the biggest changes in law that has ever happened
>since the 14th amendment, and nobody shows up. Nobody much from
>outside the law school showed up--it is quite likely that I was the
>only non-lawyer and non-UT person at the morning panels. No newsmedia
>thought it worthwhile to show up and have these lawyers explain how the
>Bush administration is changing the face of centuries of English common law with its most
>questionable GWOT legal practices. I talked to the organizer of the event
>afterwards, and she confessed to stacking the audience with her parents
>and some friends, in order to increase the numbers. She wasn't
>entirely pleased with the attendance, but said that was about average
>for these days.
>So what is going on? Are Americans totally incurious? Is citizenship,
>in any real sense of being a participant to political events, completly dead?
>Dammit I think both statements are true, and it is worse that it is
>true amongst the future lawyers, future legislators and judges and
>politicians, who go to UT Law School. Talking with a DOJ attorney
>afterwards about this--my take is that there is an impending economic
>trainwreck, caused largely by our insane fiscal policies and the war,
>but there is another train on another set of tracks set to fly off, and
>that is the train of a working political society in this country.
>Don't know which is going to crash first, maybe they'll crash into each
>other, who knows. But I left this conference feeling most disturbed,
>not by so much what the panelists said, which was bad enough, but by
>the failure of them to meaningfully engage with society and politics at large. It bothers me greatly.