Ramsey Clark rides again
It isn't often that a dream comes true, especially at the ripe old age of 77. But that's what's happening right now for Ramsey Clark: he's going to be on Saddam's defense team.
Here's Clark himself, stating why he wants to defend Saddam. And it's no surprise, given Clark's history, delineated quite nicely here by Varifrank, who has saved me the trouble of going into all the "interesting" things Clark has done in recent years.
One can argue that even dictators need defense attorneys, and that is most certainly true. It's a nasty job, but somebody has to do it. And yet someone is already doing it; Clark's lamentably eager services are hardly needed.
Yes, Clark never met a dictator he didn't like, and this has been the case for decades. And yes, Clark is probably the most extreme leftist alive today who actually held a position of power in a Presidency--in his case, that of Lyndon Johnson, under whom he served as Attorney General.
Why am I interested in all this? It's what so often grabs me, intrapersonal political change. So my question about Clark is: how did what originally seems to have been a relatively mainstream guy end up esposing views that put him in the running with Noam Chomsky? Did something happen to change him? Or was he always like that, despite having served in the Johnson administration?
After doing a bit of research, I've got some ideas about it, and my answer is "yes" and "yes." Yes, he was always more or less like that; and yes, he became even more so as a result of his experiences during the Vietnam era.
Clark was born and raised in Texas. He enlisted in the Marines shortly after the close of WWII, at the age of seventeen. It seems to have been an extremely formative experience, in which the very young Clark felt overwhelmed by viewing the suffering the war had wreaked.
This Spectator article from March of 2005 quotes Clark on the subject:
In China in 1948, I saw people dying where they could not bury their own. They had to drag bodies out to the edge of the road where carts would come and pick them up. In Western Europe in 1949, people were still emerging from the destruction. All this informed me in a way I could never escape: the enormity of human misery on the planet; the enormity of poverty and suffering; the contrast between raw power and the vaster poverty of the impotent.
His course was set--to alleviate that suffering. Afterwards, Clark attended the University of Chicago and its law school, and found his real calling as a champion of civil rights, describing himself as "extremely aggressive...intensely involved and focused" in that cause.
Lyndon Johnson's great dream as President was also civil rights. As it turned out, the appointment of Ramsey Clark as his Attorney General promised to kill (or rather, feed) two civil rights birds with one stone.
Clark's father, Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark, was a Truman appointee who had written the unanimous opinion upholding the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But his son was appointed Attorney General as part of a scheme by Johnson to nominate the first black Supreme Court Justice:
[Tom] Clark's retirement from the Court was engineered by President Lyndon B. Johnson, a fellow Texan. Johnson was determined to appoint the first black person to the Court, but he needed to create an opening on the Court. Johnson appointed Attorney General Nicholas deB. Katzenbach undersecretary of state, which made Tom Clark's son Ramsey the acting Attorney General. He then nominated Ramsey Clark to be Attorney General, assuming correctly that Tom Clark would retire from the Court to avoid any conflict of interest. Clark did so on June 12, 1967, and Johnson nominated Thurgood Marshall to the Court.
So Ramsey Clark's appointment paved the way for Marshall's elevation, as planned, and gave Johnson an Attorney General deeply committed to the civil rights agenda. Ramsey Clark was a prime mover of that cause during the 60s, and it was undoubtedly his finest hour.
Clark turned against the Vietnam War--if in fact he'd ever supported it, and the evidence of his statements about his Marine service indicates a strong possibility that he had not--towards the end of his term, which lasted as long as Johnson was President. In fact, according to the Spectator piece, Johnson had earlier removed him from the national security council because of his opposition to the war. When Johnson's administration was over, Clark immediately became a prominant peace activist, even traveling to Hanoi in 1970. Since then he's never wavered from the most extreme leftist positions.
So it seems that Clark was always pretty far to the left, and just went further in that direction after finding success and a home in the antiwar movement of the Vietnam era. It's probable that this tendency was compounded by feelings of guilt over his participation in the administration that escalated the war, and the need to expiate that guilt in his own mind (according to the Spectator, Clark "is clearly pained by the fact that he was in the government during the Vietnam war").
A curious incident in Clark's life was his prosecution of the so-called "Boston Five," despite his antiwar sympathies. Here's a possible explanation of what was going on with Clark when he prosecuted the Five:
...for “conspiracy to aid and abet draft resistance.” Four of the five were convicted, including fellow winner of the Gandhi Peace Award pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock and Yale chaplain William Sloane Coffin Jr. (who would later officiate at the wedding of Clark's son). Clark believed since Coffin and Dr. Spock were respected, if controversial, public figures who could afford legal counsel to fight back for them, their cases would take a long time and would “focus attention on the problems of the draft.” Clark says that he hoped to show Johnson that opposition to the war wasn’t limited to "draft-dodging longhairs" but included the most admired pediatrician in America, a prominent and revered patrician minister, and a respected former Kennedy Administration official (Marcus Raskin, who had been a special staff member on the National Security Council).
Unfortunately, the Wikipedia article in which this astounding information appeared fails to give any source for this story, and I couldn't find any independent information confirming it. If true, however, his own role in their conviction might be the source of even more guilt for Ramsey to try to undo--although how defending Saddam would atone for that guilt I can't quite wrap my mind around.
Clark seems to have sympathy for any suffering he personally witnesses. He didn't see Saddam's victims, so perhaps they are not real to him. But he sees poor old Saddam now, and it just about breaks his heart:
The United States, and the Bush administration in particular, engineered the demonization of Hussein...Hussein has been held illegally for more than a year without once meeting a family member, friend or lawyer of his choice. Though the world has seen him time and again on television — disheveled, apparently disoriented with someone prying deep into his mouth and later alone before some unseen judge — he has been cut off from all communications with the outside world and surrounded by the same U.S. military that mistreated prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo...The United States has already destroyed any hope of legitimacy, fairness or even decency by its treatment and isolation of the former president and its creation of the Iraqi Special Tribunal to try him.
Clark's sympathies are activated by the suffering of old Nazis, as well, according to the Spectator interview:
He has defended Lithuanian and Ukrainian exiles accused of Nazi war crimes, and he felt strongly for them. "It is terrible to see the fear which such indictments strike into men’s hearts, and the shame they feel before their families," he tells me. "I have seen defendants being spat at in the face during trials." Perhaps he just believed that his own clients were innocent, but his pity extends even to the Nazi leaders themselves: he thinks it ‘terrible’ that eight of them were executed at Nuremberg, and that Rudolf Hess was sentenced to solitary life imprisonment in Spandau.
This goes far beyond the amount of sympathy one would need to have in order to do a decent job defending someone. In some strange and dreadful alchemy, it seems that those suffering peasants of postwar China, those blacks who were disenfranchised (and worse) in the American South, and those who died in Vietnam, have morphed over the years in Clark's mind into the dictators and war criminals who arouse his sympathies now. It's quite a journey.
[NOTE: There's something wrong with my site timer, and I can't seem to change it at the moment. This is actually being published at 1:30 PM on November 29).