Monday, September 19, 2011

(No.171) a reply from Conrad Black

In a recent column "Lord Black: I win" (posted Sept.4, 2011 to I added to what I have said previously about Conrad Black and his legal challenges in the U.S.

The column was occasioned by Lord Black's scheduled return to a Florida prison on Sept 6 ( to Miami FCI, a different prison from Coleman, the federal facility in which he had previously been incarcerated) to complete seven more months before his release scheduled for May 5, 2012. He had been released on bail following the vacating by the U.S. Supreme Court of the 4 out of the 17 original counts on which he had been convicted.

The federal appeals court in Chicago which had rejected his earlier appeal of these charges (the same 4 which the Supreme Court vacated and sent back to them) managed, in Black's words, having "been excoriated [by] a unanimous Supreme Court, when assigned the task of assessing the gravity of its own errors [in upholding the Black convictions in the previous appeal] to resurrect these 2 counts after a gymnastic distortion, suppression and fabrication of evidence." The appeals court in Chicago reinstated 2 of the 4 convictions vacated by the Supreme Court, hence Black's resentencing and return to prison.

Prior to his return to prison and in order to publicize his newly published book A Matter of Principle (McClelland & Stewart, $37) about the events of the past 8 years he gave interviews to a variety of print and broadcast media in which he was, as he is in the book itself, sharply critical of both the U.S. justice system and the Bureau of Prisons.

In my recent column I wrote that "I wonder about the advisability of some of the comments he has made in recent interviews .... Indeed I wonder whether it would not have been wiser to postpone [the book's] publication until after he had completed his prison sentence."

In his reply to me, sent on the same day my column was posted and just before his return to prison, Lord Black emphasized that "the point of my publishing now is to make the point of how completely the enforcement apparatus has failed to intimidate me. It has no ability to extend the sentence, though, as I wrote, they could be more oppressive over the next seven months. But the point about not compromising on principles is you don't compromise."

I am now reading A Matter of Principle, a 581 page work including appendices and extensive index. One of the appendices reproduces Black's address to the Chicago court on June 24, 2011 prior to his resentencing. It is not only eloquent it is a model of effective argument and an impressive refusal to beg the court for mercy or even sympathy. The book itself is fascinating, informative, rewarding and an impressive job of writing. I will return to it in a future column.

The Globe and Mail (Toronto) included a review of the book in last Saturday's book section (Sept.16). The review was written by Douglas Bell, described at review's end as one who "covered the trial of Conrad Black gavel-to-gavel for Toronto Life magazine."

Bell, unlike many journalists in recent years, takes no cheap shots at Black. He describes the book as one that "defies, even mocks, precis, so steep and profound are its roller coasters of insight, enlightenment and depredation." He also cites characteristics of Conrad Black to which I have referred in the past and which I admire. For example, Bell writes that "If there's one thing Black knows how to do, it's throw a punch. ...[he] doesn't know how to take a backward step [in a fight] and as a consequence is incapable of doing anything but give his audience its money's worth." I agree.

Nor does there seem to be even an ounce of self-pity in Black. As I wrote back in July of 2010 (column No.104,"Rooting for Conrad Black") he "is the sort of Canadian I always have time for. This is so for the same sorts of reasons I like Canadians as diverse as Don Cherry, Rick Salutin and the late Tommy Douglas. They are/were self-confident, assertive and willing to take a position they believe in almost without regard to whether some or many people like it or not.

"They seem to me, and I include Lord Black among this type of Canadian, incapable of being intimidated. When I think of Canadians historically, whether in war or when playing hockey, this has been an admirable and highly Canadian trait."

For me Lord Black's Sept.4 reply serves as a reminder that his new book and recent comments show that the authorities have, in his words, "failed to intimidate me". Just so.

by Alastair Rickard




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