Thursday, September 10, 2015

The things that make us sigh . . .

Last weekend when making my weekly friday commute to Chicago, I was musing as usual with only 1/2 an ear tuned to the radio as I had already heard part of the broadcast in the Eastern time zone and was waiting for the central time zone to get caught up.  (Yes, I know the satellite radio subscribers are snickering!)

A small phrase snuck into my consciousness, "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind," and caught my full attention. The particular NPR programming was being sponsored by The Neofuturists.

The Neofuturists were my first pro bono client with the Lawyers for the Creative Arts.  I helped them incorporate and file for 501(c)3 status with the IRS. I recall that the IRS had a hard time comprehending that the price of admission for the performance was based on the roll of a dice or a draw of card and that the performance was 30 plays in 60 minutes. I also recall that many of the VPKK lawyers had a bit of a time with clients that walked along the atrium to the conference room wearing t-shirts and Converse All-Stars.

The Neofuturists theatre group is now wildly successful. I hope to take in a performance soon.

It isn't often that the past revisits with such good news. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Public Library Junkie Finds the Gem at GTMO!

I was in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba the week of February 9 to serve as an NGO Observer at the 9/11 Military Commission hearings. Upon landing the captain of our flight said "Welcome to Cuba, Pearl of the Antilles." During my time there I discovered the real gem - the Community Library.

It was a wonderful surprise to see such a great library facility on the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Although it didn't look like much from the outside . . .

24-hour free wifi, inside and outside the building!
  who can resist a door that invites you in with

The Community Library was renovated in 2012. The news article I found describing the renovation noted that the Community Library serves 135,000 users!  The collections were current and in great shape. I found many favorites in the well-stocked children's and young adult sections.

Show me a child who wouldn't want to come to story hour in this room?

Story hour: 4:00 Friday

One couldn't help feeling at home here. The librarians were very friendly, the computers new, and the seating and work areas comfortable. The electronic resources were impressive  - Academic Search Premier was just one of many available for use!

The Community Library is open noon - 9 pm, Tuesday through Sunday. The usual public library "comforts" were available -- reader advisory brochures and Library Bingo! I got a Reading Bingo Card as a souvenir.

I was a bit sad not to be there to attend the murder mystery dinner!
Whenever possible I used the wifi at the Community Library, even though it meant a 10-minute escort van ride, because it was faster and more reliable than the weekly $150 ethernet access at Camp Justice. It didn't hurt that "I am a public library junkie!"

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Pay Attention

In mid-December I traveled to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba with 11 other NGO observers, representing law schools, human rights organizations, and the American Bar Association, to observe and monitor pre-trial motion hearings in the 9/11 case. My role as an NGO observer is to be an independent, objective witness to help ensure that a fair and transparent legal process is occurring. As the eyes and ears of the outside world and, most importantly, the American public, I took this honor and responsibility very seriously. I did a substantial amount of “homework” to enhance my understanding of not only the content of the case and the motions to be heard, but also of military commission procedure, international human rights law, and the right to a fair trial. Because the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released what is now known as the “Torture Report” two days before I left, I read that report as well. In retrospect, nothing could have fully prepared me for the experience, even though I have been working with the Military Commission Observation Project here at the Indiana University McKinney Law School for more than six months.

My last important obligation is to share my findings as broadly as possible.The importance of this obligation has been reinforced by how frequently people respond with surprise when I tell them why I went to Guantánamo Bay. They say, for example: “Is that still going on? What is it? Isn’t that over yet? Aren’t they guilty? Why is the government spending all that money?”

As one way of sharing broadly, I decided to offer an executive summary of my findings in this forum as to whether a fair and open process is occurring at Guantánamo Bay. You can find additional thoughts in my posts at The Gitmo Observer

The executive summary is four short sentences:
  • The Military Commission is the process we are using at this time to determine innocence and guilt, and ultimately, any sentences to be imposed on the defendants.
  • The government and judiciary have determined that the best place for the Military Commission process to be conducted is Guantánamo Bay.
  • It is currently anticipated that the 9/11 trials will begin no earlier than 2018; as such there are and will be many more actions that will work to deny fair trials to the defendants.
  • It is imperative that we as Americans pay attention to ensure that fair and transparent legal proceedings occur.
A recent New York Daily News op-ed piece written by a member of a 9/11 victim’s family vehemently and passionately objected to the release of the Torture Report because in her opinion the Torture Report made the detainees into victims. In the author’s opinion the committee was influenced by “a narrative written by anti-American ideologues in thrall of international human rights activists with no allegiance to nations.”

I disagree. The victim of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program described in the Torture Report is our Constitution. If we fail to ensure that each of these individuals is afforded a fair trial, we will have failed our Constitution and ourselves. If, and that is a very big if, we are to salvage any aspect of process going forward, we must ensure that the voice of our Constitution resonates as loudly and passionately as the other voices.

As members of the legal community, we stand in a unique position that enables us to question and evaluate the process. We deal with the law and the fair and judicious application of the law every day. We are trained to question, reason, and identify the incongruities. We have an obligation to stand firm to the principles of our Constitution when horrific actions tempt peaceful people to act outside the law. In my opinion, there is currently no better place to exercise that obligation than in reference to the monitoring and evaluation of the legal process occurring at Guantánamo Bay. All we need do is take the time to pay attention.

We cannot rely on others or even the press to pay attention and question on our behalf. On this trip, only four press agencies were present: Miami Herald, The Daily BeastThe Washington Free Beacon,
and Berliner Beitung. Currently, the Miami Herald provides comprehensive and, in many instances, the only coverage of the proceedings at Guantánamo Bay. Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald has been on the story since the first detainees arrived in Guantánamo Bay in January 2002.

Fortunately it is remarkably easy to “pay attention.” The Gitmo Observer
project, as well as others such as Human Rights First and the American Civil Liberties Union, report on the legal proceedings and activities at Guantánamo Bay. Rosenberg maintains a twitter feed (@carolrosenberg), and there is an extensive archive and resource collection at\guantanamo.

This untitled poem by Martin Niemöller (1892-1984), a Protestant pastor who spoke out against Adolf Hitler and spent seven years in a concentration camp, reflects my experience at Guantánamo Bay and informs my call to speak on behalf of our Constitution:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Trade Unionist. 
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. 
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.