Monday 19 May 2008

legal functions

There was a distinguished line-up at the Tricycle Theatre last night for a one-off performance of extracts from Philippe Sands' new book Torture Team. Sands' book details how half-a-dozen lawyers within the Bush administration paved the way for the introduction of torture.

The cast included Vanessa Redgrave, Corin Redgrave, Alex Jennings, Joanna Lumley and Sands himself. Perhaps the most compelling moments were the interviews with people who realised the wider implications of these legal machinations: Alberto Mora, General Counsel to the US Navy (played by Ron Cook) and Lt. Colonel Diane Beaver (played by Sally Giles).

Two film clips were also shown: one was a series of damning observations made by Senator Edward Kennedy about the Pentagon counsel William Haynes; the other was a clip from the judge's summing up in the 1961 movie Judgment at Nuremberg (with Spencer Tracy, above).

The significance of the movie to Guantanamo is that Judgment at Nuremberg was inspired by the 1947 case United States of America v. Josef Altstoetter et al. As Sands writes in his piece in the May issue of Vanity Fair,

'The case is famous because it appears to be the only one in which lawyers have ever been charged and convicted for committing international crimes through the performance of their legal functions.'

As Sands rightly stresses, it would be absurd to make any factual or historical comparisons. The point is to pursue 'the underlying principle'. The lawyers were seen to be accomplices.

This underlying principle must also apply to environmental crimes1 and decisions that relate to climate change. In his LRB essay On Thinning Ice2 the international lawyer Michael Byers says that so much is now known:

'Governments that today refuse to prevent climate change may well come to be regarded in the future as having perpetrated international crimes.'

One day, perhaps, the Tricycle Theatre will be staging a 'tribunal play' about that.

1See Timeline: (2007) Supreme Court rules greenhouse gases are pollutants
2 Summarised here.

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