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The purpose of holding the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay was and is to put them

beyond the rule of law, beyond the protection of any courts and at the mercy of victors

 

 

 Book by John Maxwell

How to Make Our Own News: A Primer for Environmentalist and Journalists

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Empire of Fear

By John Maxwell

One does not have to be Scaramouche to have a sense that the world is mad – most of us have known for quite a long time that we are governed by lunatics in both the public and the private spheres.

And how else can we explain the IMF and the World Bank telling Jamaica that its economic direction is unsustainable, when we have been the most diligent of their students for more than 20 years?

How else to explain that Royal Dutch/Shell, one of the world’s largest and most important entities, has confessed that one fifth of its golden eggs did not exist – that one fifth of the assets it claimed to have in oil reserves were either imaginary or otherwise non-existent?

How else explain the American initiative to democratise Haiti when democracy at home is in serious need of repair and resuscitation?

How do you explain that in the latest capitalist scandal, this time in Italy, the head of the country’s largest food company Parmalat and of its transnational subsidiaries turns out to be a telephone operator?

The news that the empires presided over by Mr Patterson and Mr Seaga are both bankrupt should come as no surprise.

And it should be no surprise that Mr Patterson’s government is taking steps to make it as difficult as possible for the rest of us to mount any kind of challenge to him or to any other of the powers that be – or that imagine themselves to be, pace Shell!

‘The Blind leading the Deaf’

A few months ago, many of us were slightly bemused to learn from President Bush himself that he did not read newspapers or listen to TV news. His news, he vouchsafed, was filtered, delivered word of mouth by his closest and most trusted advisers.

‘That explains it!’ some of us thought, prematurely.

It now turns out, according to the former Treasury secretary, Paul O’Neill, that Mr Bush is even less connected to reality than we thought.

According to O’Neill, a former CEO of ALCOA, even in cabinet meetings, where the fate of the world is decided each week, the President was ‘so disengaged “that he was “ like  a blind man in a room of deaf people.”

According to Mr O’Neill, the Administration’s decision-making process was so flawed that often top officials had no real sense of what the president wanted them to do, forcing them to act on "little more than hunches about what the president might think."

Reacting to O’Neill’s criticism, Mr Bush’s mouthpiece, Scott McClellan said on Friday  "I think it's well known the way the president approaches governing and setting priorities. The president is someone that leads and acts decisively on our biggest priorities and that is exactly what he'll continue to do."

The problem is that Mr Bush’s priorities soon turn out to be our priorities and the priorities of billions of people round the world.

For instance, we have all been forced to bow down to the President’s ruling which abrogates the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war. We say nothing to challenge the vigilante behaviour of the Government of the United States – now holding more than 600 people from more than 40 countries under what one of the most eminent jurists in the world calls conditions “of utter lawlessness.”

Lord Steyn, the third highest in Britain’s legal hierarchy, is a judge whose opinions are respected round the world. Steyn said in November he hoped the British Government would denounce “and make plain publicly and unambiguously our condemnation of the utter lawlessness at Guantanamo Bay.”

In a memorial lecture to law students at the Inns of Court in November, Lord Steyn warned Americans that the denial of justice to foreigners would lead to the gradual erosion of fundamental civil rights of US citizens.

Steyn described the Guantanamo Bay detentions as a ‘monstrous failure of justice” leading to “Kangaroo Courts  – a pre-ordained arbitrary rush to judgment by an irregular tribunal which makes a mockery of justice".

"The purpose of holding the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay was and is to put them beyond the rule of law, beyond the protection of any courts and at the mercy of victors," Lord Steyn  reminded his audience that it was a recurring theme in history "in times of war, armed conflict, or perceived national danger, even liberal democracies adopt measures infringing human rights in ways that are wholly disproportionate to the crisis. Often the loss of liberty is permanent". He chided Judges  who he said, were often too deferential to the executive even in peacetime. It was  "a monstrous failure of justice" that so far the US courts had decided they could not even consider credible medical evidence that a detainee had been or was being tortured.

"The procedural rules  [at Camp Delta] do not prohibit the use of force to coerce prisoners to confess," he went on. "On the contrary, the rules expressly provide that statements made by a prisoner under physical and mental duress are admissible 'if the evidence would have value to a reasonable person', i.e. military officers trying enemy soldiers."

Lord Steyn quoted officials as saying: "It's not quite torture but at close as you can get."

Prisoners had been left without any rights,.  Trials would be held in secret, with none of the basic guarantees for a fair trial.

The jurisdiction of the US courts was excluded. The military controlled everything, subject to decisions of the president even on guilt or innocence in individual cases, as well as sentences. President Bush had already described the prisoners as "killers".

"The question is whether the quality of justice envisaged for the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay complies with the minimum international standards for the conduct of fair trials," Lord Steyn continued –  "The answer can be given quite shortly. It is a resounding 'NO'."

The object of Lord Steyn’s contempt is primarily the American Attorney General, author of the PATRIOT Act,  and a man of such refined sensibility that he needs to put clothes on statues.

It is he, and the lawyers he leads, who are  now the exemplars of the world and Jamaica, as we rush to enact into law an anti-terrorism Act to comply with the paranoia of the US authorities.

‘If it ain’t Broke …

We Jamaicans have been here before.

During the First and Second World Wars the British passed laws which restricted civil rights, most importantly, freedom of expression, in the cause of winning the war. The Germans did the same. One side had to lose. The side that lost was that one most efficient in preventing freedom of expression.

The Defense of the Realm Act in the Second World War got a few Jamaicans into trouble. George Scotter, an Englishman who was a sub-editor at the Gleaner was one. Others included PNP stalwarts such as the Four H’s, Samuel Marquis and, of course, Alexander Bustamante, or Alexander Clarke as he then was.  Later, the laws of sedition caught up with one of my predecessors at Public Opinion, Roger Mais, who spent nine months in prison for being rude to Sir Winston Churchill and the Empire. His Managing Editor, O.T. Fairclough narrowly missed the same fate, as did I  20 years later – in the sixties, when  parliament solemnly debated whether I had been excessively and offensively critical of Sir Alexander Bustamante – agitator  turned imperialist..

The basic thrust of our nascent anti-terrorism act is, from what I can gather, to repeat prohibitions already contained in other laws and to add a few more, just to make us realise that we are living in the new world constructed by Kafka, Orwell, and Bush.

Oddly enough, if we take the new act seriously, it will, it seems to me, be able to catch and  identify as terrorists, some very large corporations for reasons I will not explain today. It will probably also snare journalists like me and protesters like those who demonstrated last year against the Iraq war.

What most of us don’t realise is that Jamaican law is already oppressive and able to take care of whole swaths of people who could even marginally be described as terrorists.  In 1974 we passed the Gun Court Act and the Suppression of Crimes Act. The latter was repealed because it allowed the police too much power, in addition to the abusive imperium they already enjoyed.

We don’t need a new act, all we need is some sharper prosecutors.

… Don’t Fix It’

Which, of course, brings me to the process of justice itself. Lots of people will argue that I am (God Save Us!) a diehard conservative because I am against the Caribbean Court of Justice as presently envisioned. My reason is simple. We have no Lord Steyns here.

An article in the West Indian Law Journal a few years ago by Zanifa McDowell, a Master of Laws of Cambridge, and at the time a temporary lecturer in Law at  the UWI, asks some very serious questions about the quality of the Court – the  essential question in my mind.

Unfortunately I do not know whether Zanifa McDowell is a man or a woman, so I hope I will be excused  for not identifying her/him  by the correct title.

In the introduction to an examination of the quality of our judges, McDowell says that while the political and other questions tend to be the main concerns, the real concern should be whether the court would be competent and capable of effecting justice between parties.

“Judging from the relative volume of cases referred to the Privy Council, and judging from the number of over-turned decisions, arguably the issue concerning intellectual maturity, analytical ability, and sound judgment of our local judges falls squarely into question.”

After examining a number of appeals from the Caribbean to the Privy Council it becomes clear that sometimes judges, including whole courts, make serious mistakes, even at an elementary level.

In one case the Privy Council commented inter alia “The argument accepted by the Court of Appeal seems to have been as follows: Either the police officers were acting in execution of their duty, or they were not. If they were, the defendants are entitled to the benefit of the Public Authorities Protection Act. If they were not they must have been on a frolic of their own . . . and the crown would not be vicariously liable. So either way, the plaintiff must fail”.

McDowell drily comments that  “after reading the Councils judgment, any reasonable person would feel that justice was vindicated, but only at this level (my italics) Where does that leave our confidence in our own regional judicial; institutions?”

“Should independence and sovereignty mean more to us than justice for our people? Is it not a fact that independence and sovereignty emerge as a result of the observance of the rules of justice? If justice is then watered down to the level where basic rules of law, basic rules of legal practice and procedure, basic canons of construction of statutes and documents affecting people’s rights can be violated and/or ignored or seriously misinterpreted by those entrusted with the administration of them, then, surely the national and regional pride felt on account of our independence and sovereignty  must give way to the outrage we feel that justice for our people means little more than a judge persuading a jury by making personal comments about an accused’s identity or credibility.”

And like me, McDowell would plead for time to ensure that something “positive and constructive is done to improve the competence and abilities of those whom we  entrust with the highest honour  – that of dispensing justice and upholding the rule of law.”

For me, the law has two brand new heroes: Steyn and McDowell.

We, whose necks are on the block, salute them.

©2004 John Maxwell  maxinf@cwjamaica.com

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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Forged: Writing in the Name of God

Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

By Bart D. Ehrman

The evocative title tells it all and hints at the tone of sensationalism that pervades this book. Those familiar with the earlier work of Ehrman, a distinguished professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and author of more than 20 books including Misquoting Jesus, will not be surprised at the content of this one. Written in a manner accessible to nonspecialists, Ehrman argues that many books of the New Testament are not simply written by people other than the ones to whom they are attributed, but that they are deliberate forgeries. The word itself connotes scandal and crime, and it appears on nearly every page. Indeed, this book takes on an idea widely accepted by biblical scholars: that writing in someone else's name was common practice and perfectly okay in ancient times. Ehrman argues that it was not even then considered acceptable—hence, a forgery. While many readers may wish for more evidence of the charge, Ehrman's introduction to the arguments and debates among different religious communities during the first few centuries and among the early Christians themselves, though not the book's main point, is especially valuable.—Publishers Weekly  / Forged Bart Ehrman’s New Salvo (Witherington)

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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If you like this page consider making a donation

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Negro Digest / Black World

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1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        

Enjoy!

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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Ancient African Nations

*   *   *   *   *

If you like this page consider making a donation

online through PayPal

*   *   *   *   *

Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues


1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        

Enjoy!

*   *   *   *   *

The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  /  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

*   *   *   *   *

The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 16 June 2008

 

 

 

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