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The Polite Conference Rooms Where Liberties Are Saved and Lost
Posted on Mar 26, 2012
By Chris Hedges
Torrance: And was that a violation of some law or regulation that you know of?
Afran: Note, object to form. Laws and regulations are two different things.
Hedges: Not in my view. …
Torrance: Did the people who detained you specify any law or regulation that in their view you violated?
Hedges: Let me preface that by saying that as a foreign correspondent with a valid journalistic visa, which I had, in a country like Saudi Arabia, the United States does not have the authority to detain me or tell me what I can report on. They attempted to do that, but neither I [nor] The New York Times [my employer at the time] recognized their authority.
Torrance: When you obtained that journalistic visa did you agree to any conditions on what you would do or where you would be permitted to go?
Hedges: From the Saudis?
Torrance: The visa was issued by the Saudi government?
Hedges: Of course, I need a visa from the Saudi government to get into Saudi.
Torrance: Did you agree to any such conditions?
Hedges: No. Not with the Saudis.
Torrance: Were there any other journalists of which you were aware who [were] reporting outside of the pool system?
Torrance: Were they also detained, to your knowledge?
The politeness of the exchanges, the small courtesies extended when we needed a break, the idle asides that took place during the brief recesses, masked the deadly seriousness of the proceeding. If there is no rolling back of the NDAA law we cease to be a constitutional democracy.
Totalitarian systems always begin by rewriting the law. They make legal what was once illegal. Crimes become patriotic acts. The defense of freedom and truth becomes a crime. Foreign and domestic subjugation merges into the same brutal mechanism. Citizens are colonized. And it is always done in the name of national security. We obey the new laws as we obeyed the old laws, as if there was no difference. And we spend our energy and our lives appealing to a dead system.
Franz Kafka understood the totalitarian misuse of law, the ability by the state to make law serve injustice and yet be held up as the impartial arbiter of good and evil. In his stories “The Trial” and “The Castle” Kafka presents pathetic supplicants before the law who are passed from one doorkeeper, administrator or clerk to the next in an endless and futile quest for justice. In the parable “Before the Law” the supplicant dies before even being permitted to enter the halls of justice. In Kafka’s dystopian vision, the law is the mechanism by which injustice and tyranny are perpetuated. A bureaucratic legal system uses the language of justice to defend injustice. The cowed populations in tyrannies become for Kafka so broken, desperate and passive that they are finally complicit in their own enslavement. The central character in “The Trial,” known as Josef K, offers little resistance at the end of the story when two men arrive to oversee his execution. Josef K. leads them to a quarry where he is expected to kill himself. He cannot. The men do it for him. His last words are: “Like a dog!”
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