Lord Black: Enemy of the People

by Rebecca Bynum (December 2013)

 


A Matter of Principle
by Conrad Black
Encounter Books, 2012
ISBN: 978-1594036590

 

 

 

 

Watching two days of Conrad Black's trial is a demoralizing experience for anyone who loves America and loves the law. - Ezra Levant


Americans who have had no personal experience of being prosecuted by the government imagine that the television show Law and Order is a true reflection of reality. Yes, there may be a bit of strong-arming on the part of police, yes, they may threaten potential suspects and witnesses with prosecution and/or promise a reduced sentence for “flipping” on the bad guy, yes, bail may seem excessive for the rich, but the moral rectitude of the prosecutor’s office and police department is never in question. A crime has been committed and Jack McCoy always prosecutes the right man (even if sometimes this is arrived at by a circuitous route) and justice is done in the end. The foundation of the republic is secure, even if the means of obtaining justice are a bit rough and tumble.

In actual fact, prosecutors seize property and drain bank accounts in order to deprive the accused of any representation other than a public defender (who are paid by the number and types of cases processed not the quality of defense provided). Prosecutors threaten and intimidate associates of the defendant so as to obtain incriminating testimony even to the point of suborning perjury. (It is this pervasive practice Black points to as being at the heart of our system's corruption.) Plus, prosectors often leak damaging information to the media so as to purposefully poison the jury pool. Furthermore, they demand outrageous sums for bail based on what they perceive can be extracted from the accused and his family, who often become deeply indebted simply to prevent their loved one from being summarily incarcerated. In short, the entire system is designed to humiliate, bankrupt and ruin the targeted person long before his case ever comes to trial. Innocent until proven guilty? Protection from unreasonable searches and seizures? The truth as defense? Please.

Americans do not even swear to “tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth” on the Bible anymore. Everyone tells self-serving lies in court (including, or perhaps especially, the prosecutors) and everyone knows it. The prosecution wins 90% of the time and even if by some stroke of fate they do happen to lose a case, the targeted person has still been utterly destroyed; his life can hardly be put back together after having been shredded by the government’s prosecution machine. These are the broken, hollowed out men and women who are designated enemies of the people, though not necessarily guilty of any crime, and their ranks are growing.

Conrad Black is an incredibly strong person. He survived the full onslaught of the US Justice Department and fought against all odds at every step. He fought all the way to the Supreme Court, which unanimously vacated his conviction, but even that – even that – did not prevent prosecutors from sending him back to jail for a further seven months after he had already spent over two years in federal lock-up for a crimes he did not commit. By that time, his life’s work, the company he had built up over 35 years and which had been the third largest English-language newspaper empire in the world, was completely demolished (the shareholders were left with nothing of the original $2 billion in value).

The government seized everything of Black’s it could lay its hands on, even sending the FBI to seize the proceeds of the sale of his New York apartment. (The FBI had to have wiretapped Black’s attorney’s office in order to sweep in at the exact moment the check was delivered.) This illustrates the lengths to which prosecutors are willing to go to deprive the targeted person of funds for self-defense.

Black’s legal bills ran into the tens of millions. The highest powered attorneys had fled when it looked like he wouldn’t be able to raise enough cash to pay them any more (after having already pocketed $8 million) and even a firm which had digitalized the documents needed for court threatened to erase them all if he didn’t  pay their bill within a certain period of time. Black’s sweet and long-suffering wife (the very fine journalist, Barbara Amiel) was reduced to trying to sell her jewelry to some unsavory characters at one point. Everyone, it seems, felt perfectly free to bully and humiliate this couple, already in their sixties. They were enemies of the people, after all. They deserved to be kicked while they were down.

Black writes movingly, though dispassionately, of the people whom he had formerly admired and even loved, who deserted him and in some cases turned actively against him in his time of trial. He spares no one in the telling, just as they had not spared him. Lord Black, of course, had been a member of the highest level of society on a global scale. He had owned The Telegraph, The Jerusalem Post, The National Post and The Chicago Sun-Times as well as numerous smaller papers and magazines. In fact, he began in the newspaper business because of the access it afforded him to interesting people at the highest levels of politics, business and the arts. It seems to me, from reading his book at least, that Mr. Black is a person who genuinely likes people and is interested in them. Naturally he wanted to get to know the most interesting people he could find, and the newspaper business is perfect for that purpose. He is also intensely interested in history and politics, and the newspaper business gave him a voice in politics – a conservative voice. This is one of the reasons rival papers jumped all over the story of his downfall and ran with every nasty rumor they could find on both Black and his innocent wife. This was true especially of Rupert Murdock’s British tabloids and the American media followed suit. Nowadays, news is entertainment and nothing is as entertaining as watching the formerly mighty fall – especially a wealthy conservative like Conrad Black.

It is interesting to note how the younger wealthy set (Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, etc.) consistently dress in the “people’s uniform” of jeans and a tee shirt in almost every photo opportunity, as if to say, “Let’s not dwell on the fact I have much more money than almost anyone else on earth. At heart, I remain a humble boy. I am one of you.” Conrad Black, on the contrary, cared about civilizational standards, history and language and he dressed the part, as did his wife. Of course, this was especially unforgivable.

The average person can easily be persuaded to designate such arrogant souls (that is, those who reach for the higher levels of civilization) as enemies of the people. They automatically assume such people are corrupt and are deserving of punishment. And naturally, this is exactly the card prosecutors played at trial. Most people believe it is impossible to make that kind of money legally because they’ve certainly never been able to do it. (I know I haven’t.) Simply put, the average American thinks all successful businessmen are crooks.

Thus, when a big bull elephant like Lord Black comes into prosecutors’ sights, they know they can’t miss, and not only that, bagging him will help to make their names, or at least add to the big tusks they already have on the wall. Most of these businessmen roll over and die quite easily, if the behavior of Mr. Black’s associates is any indication of the breed. Conrad Black is made of sterner stuff:

I made the best deal I could with [former SEC Chairmen and head of the Special Committee to investigate Black’s company, Richard] Breeden and his minions. If they had honored it, I could have stayed as non-executive chairman until it was clear that I had done nothing wrong and that they had no idea how to run the company, and could have reasserted myself. If they didn’t honor it, I would have three options: I could join [David] Radler in his already contemplated course of acknowledging crimes, though I had committed none; I could collapse on all points except admission of crimes, like [Peter] Atkinson; or I could fight, and never stop fighting, until I won or died.

Morally, there was only one choice. It would be terribly difficult and would require endurance of many more humiliating defeats until I could start to disassemble the pre-cooked Special Committee case against me, echoed by the media. [Board members Richard] Perle and [Henry] Kissinger would waffle for a while until recognition of the balance of power would require, with finite regret, that I be abandoned and betrayed. Breeden had the hammer over Perle of claiming he had been over-compensated and had made self-serving investment recommendations (as he had, though I don’t think the company lost thereby, because we only acted on the ones that worked for us). Kissinger just followed the correlation of forces, as he did in all things, great and small. The life I had worked thirty years to build had been taken from me in an irresistible stroke, so swift and overwhelming it was hard to grasp at first.

All this to say that if Breeden double-crossed me on the Restructuring Agreement, I would fight to the end, until success or a collapse of my ability to fight on; I have never considered giving up for a second. Nor will I.

From the brief passage quoted above the reader can see for himself what an excellent writer is Mr. Black. Like Edward G. Robinson reciting the actuarial tables in Double Indemnity, the dullest details of corporate structure and finance seem gripping in the hands of this exciting author. Indeed, the cyclone which demolished his former life may have cleared the way for him to follow what may prove his true calling. Conrad Black a natural born writer.

Of course Breeden violated the agreement he had initiated almost immediately. Regulators, prosecutors and on down to the police may deceive and manipulate their targets without consequence. However, if the targeted person so much as allows the smallest discrepancy between statements, he is liable for an obstruction of justice charge and prison time – just another handy cudgel prosecutors find ready to hand in the name of defending the people.

With this book, Mr. Black has performed an invaluable service to the citizens of the United States by focusing light on the corrupt and corrupting practices of our current judicial system. Our prison system fares no better in his telling – especially as it has become increasingly privatized and therefore seeking growth at all costs. However, his real focus is on the everyday trampling on the Constitution by public servants who are sworn to uphold it. He reminds us that in America the accused are supposed to be guaranteed due process with the grand jury as assurance against capricious prosecution. We are supposed to be protected from unreasonable search and seizure without due compensation. We are supposed to be guaranteed a speedy trial by a jury of our peers, access to counsel and reasonable bail. None of these things are guaranteed anymore, in fact, the opposite is true. (Mr. Black's bail was set at $38 million.) The assumption of guilt is first and foremost and our judges allow this travesty for fear of being labeled “soft on crime.” As further proof of Mr. Black's innocence, it should also be noted that he collected $5 million in a libel settlement from the authors and publicizers of the Special Committee Report.

Without question, the endurance of our nation depends upon the impartiality and integrity of our courts. Judges have a sacred responsibility to acquit the innocent as well as to punish the guilty. Indeed the greatness of any nation rests with how solicitous it is toward the rights of the accused so that it might ensure those falsely accused are not punished. In America today the wrongly accused are all punished, and punished severely as a matter of course. Such rampant injustice cannot continue to rot the inner core of our nation without eventually bringing us down to the level of the most oppressive governments in history. Justice does not mean only punishment of the guilty; it also means protection for the innocent, especially the falsely accused.

To our everlasting shame, this is something we have forgotten.

 

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Rebecca Bynum's latest book is Allah is Dead, Why Islam is Not a Religion.



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