haven’t done much mental spring cleaning because so much of the last month has been taken up with brooding and spewing about the crisis in the Middle East; no doubt the coming months will be much the same. After putting your mind to this issue for a long time–witness Shimon Peres, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman and so many others–cobwebs gather and it becomes hard to see through the accumulated dust. So it was pleasant to turn to
, the new publication of the Yale Law School, edited by Lincoln Caplan, which casts an intelligent eye over a broad and spacious intellectual terrain.
Of course the first item I turned to–obsessively–was an article on Israel, more specifically on the legendary Supreme Court President Aharon Barak (no relation), by Emily Bazelon–thankfully the only Middle East piece in the inaugural issue, or who knows how I might have been sidetracked. In 1992, from his seat on the Israeli Supreme Court, he championed the Basic Laws that now serve the country as a kind of de facto constitution and give Israel one of the most progressive sets of human rights laws and precepts to govern any nation. But that was just a first step for this exceptional person.
In May 1998, in a historic pronouncement, he declared (I’m simplifying here) that torture of Palestinian detainees by the Shin Bet was not legalized under Israeli codes. This meant that one day there would be no more shabach–the technique of tying prisoners to kindergarten chairs, putting their heads in sacks and subjecting them to humiliation and psychological torture. It meant no more shaking, a favored method that disorients and injures without leaving visible signs. No more sleep deprivation. Barak later codified this ruling, when he “unequivocally declared for a unanimous court that the Shin Bet’s methods of interrogating Palestinians detained without charges violated the rights to human dignity and freedom.” But those were better days in Israel, and Bazelon points out that current conditions may have allowed the Shin Bet to violate the ban. The Public Committee Against Torture has filed two petitions to the court since September 2000, both arguing that the ban on torture has not been “fully enforced,” as Bazelon understates it. One petition was withdrawn and the other rejected. Like so many of his generation who hoped to normalize life in Israel, Barak too has been undermined by the Degeneration of the Situation.
Anyway, Legal Affairs is not all bleakness and Jerusalem drizzle. Its other lead piece is Brendan Koerner’s dazzling narrative of cyber-intrigue and blackmail that extends from Russia to FBI headquarters in DC. The magazine also looks at hip-hop music with the amusing premise that it is all about law enforcement, in a piece that would be great but for its silly, super-serious tone. Tim Dodd contributes an excellent article from Jakarta on Syafiuddin Kartasasmita, the conservative Indonesian judge who was assassinated a year after leading a three-man panel that found the youngest son of the dictator Suharto, Tommy, guilty of corruption. A very amusing piece by Dashka Slater tells you what it’s like to spend a working week watching only court TV (answer: terrific and soporific). A bunch of small excerpts from Christopher Buckley’s latest Washington entertainment (No Way to Treat a First Lady) are fun, if not terribly enlightening. And “Silence! Four ways the law keeps poor people from getting heard in court” should be on the reading list of every legal reporter and defense attorney in America. There is also a no doubt valuable piece by Benjamin Wittes on the faulty legal underpinnings of Kenneth Starr’s behavior (but lines like “the attorney general had the authority to decline to request an independent counsel where a clear Justice Department policy would preclude an indictment” really harsh my buzz). Legal Affairs reminds you that the law matters–unlike
, which makes you think the law is a buddy system for grotesque elites in major urban centers who speak a language the rest of us cannot understand (except when it’s about gigantic salaries and hourly fees). The new magazine reminds you that the law is the element in which most of the major stories of our lives take place (marriages, births, deaths, crimes, real estate closings, divorce), and that it provides the narrative framework for the unfolding of most important events.
News From Nowhere
Globalvision News Network has set up an extremely useful website called The News Not in the News (you can find it at www.gvnews.net, by subscription). This is where you can see what the Arab press is really reporting; where you’ll find the latest from places like Kyrgyzstan, where the government has just resigned following unrest since the May 10 sentencing of Felix Kulov, the foremost leader of the Kyrgyz (new national adjective!) opposition, to ten years in prison. The stories are put up without annotation, so that, say, the Kyrgyz reporting can become convoluted to the uninitiated reader. But you wouldn’t want to miss this story: In his first interview in two years–conducted along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in writing and by messenger, not in person–Mullah Omar (you remember him) tells Asharq Al-Awsat, an Arab news agency, that flames will engulf the White House and that Osama bin Laden is still alive. Of course, for all one knows, the interviewee could have been an Afghan schoolboy having his fun, since there is no proof that the reporter’s questions were actually relayed to Omar himself. But that is what is both useful and charming about this site: It is raw news as it is written and printed in other lands, as fresh as it can be, and with its edgy myth-making untouched by American objectivity. “What is important for the US now is to find out why they did that [the attack on September 11],” says “Omar.” “America should remove the cause that made them do it.” If only “Omar” had a mirror version of The News Not in the News, he could see what a tempest that very same issue set off in America’s own pages not so long ago. But we wouldn’t want to harsh his buzz.