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Tomorrow we observe the storming of the Bastille in Paris, which marked the beginning of the French Revolution. It’s a fitting time to remember the most famous of all the prisoners of the Bastille, the “man in the iron mask.” And the Department of Justice thoughtfully helps us recall this by behaving just like the tyrants who provoked the revolution and held the man in the iron mask.
In 1848, Alexandre Dumas père published the novel Le Vicomte de Bragelonne, which contained in the third volume the first major literary accounting of the story of the man in the iron mask. He was not a figment of Dumas’s imagination. The man in the iron mask truly existed, in the reign of Louis XIV. He was guarded in isolation under the most hideous circumstances, in remote and tightly confined prisons with double doors. As he was transferred from places of captivity, an iron mask was placed over his head so he could not be seen or heard. The sun king was mortified at the thought that any one would ever learn who the man in the iron mask was, and why he was imprisoned. Voltaire and other scholars and writers puzzled over what this was all about, though to all it was clear that it pointed to a pathological obsession on the part of the sovereign who ordered such a strange confinement.
In 2007, following the sentencing of Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, the Department of Justice has engaged in consistently bizarre behavior. Nothing has been “normal” about this case from the first second. It is as if the supposed guardians of justice know they are about a crime themselves and are fearful of being trapped. They issue false public statements. They conduct sentencing hearings, demanding that Siegelman be imprisoned and fined for charges on which he was acquitted, and they make numerous false statements in the course of the sentencing proceedings as well. When the farce comes to an end, they insist that Siegelman be shackled and manacled in a media spectacle in the courthouse, as if he were some violent criminal presenting an imminent threat to the public. When, you might ask, will this theater of the absurd come to an end? Or perhaps we should thank them for taking such care to demonstrate that justice has absolutely nothing to do with their game.
The weekend after the sentencing, thieves broke into Siegelman’s lawyer’s office and ransacked it, looking for the files. These are some thieves. They have no interest in a television set or bottles of liquor. They want to read legal papers.
And now we come to the latest chapter of Department of Justice creepiness. As Congressional investigators start digging into the Siegelman case, and media around the country editorialize about the Justice Department’s pathological misconduct in handling it, they decide it’s time for Governor Siegelman to disappear. His lawyers are told first, that he will go to Texarkana, then that he’s in Louisiana, and finally that he’s being sent to Oklahoma City, some six hundred miles away—all in the course of thirty-six hours. And this morning no one’s quite sure exactly where he’s gone, except that he’s disappeared from the cell he occupied in Atlanta and is unavailable.
Don Siegelman has become the Bush Administration’s man in the iron mask. His very existence is an embarrassment to them. How else to explain their unending stream of erratic machinations?
More from Scott Horton:
Conversation — March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm
Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.
Freddie Gray’s relatives arrived for the trial in the afternoon, after the prep-school kids had left. By their dress, they seemed to have just gotten off work in the medical and clerical fields. The family did not appear at ease in the courtroom. They winced and dropped their heads as William Porter and his fellow officer Zachary Novak testified to opening the doors of their police van last April and finding Freddie paralyzed, unresponsive, with mucus pooling at his mouth and nose. Four women and one man mournfully listened as the officers described needing to get gloves before they could touch him.
The first of six Baltimore police officers to be brought before the court for their treatment of Freddie Gray, a black twenty-five-year-old whose death in their custody was the immediate cause of the city’s uprising last spring, William Porter is young, black, and on trial. Here in this courtroom, in this city, in this nation, race and the future seem so intertwined as to be the same thing.
Average speed of Heinz ketchup, from the mouth of an upended bottle, in miles per year:
After studying the fall of 64,000 individual raindrops, scientists found that some small raindrops fall faster than they ought to.
The Playboy mansion in California was bought by the heir to the Twinkie fortune, and a New Mexico man set fire to his apartment to protest his neighbors’ loud lovemaking.
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“Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'”