SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
It seems that a lot of the Alabama press is not amused by Inspector Javert’s claims that the only people asking questions about the Siegelman prosecution are “out of state” journalists. (For the record, I’m not sure whether Javert meant to refer to me in that group. But since my family was living in Alabama before it had even attained statehood, I find the charge pretty amusing). However, it seems to me that what Javert really meant to say was that he had the full support of Victor Hanson’s newspaper in Birmingham, and its sister publication in Mobile—the two publications that co-ventured the prosecution together with him. Their work on this matter was never the work of newspapers, so why should anyone view it that way? In fact, the cute little cartoon the Birmingham News published on its website the other day tells us all we need to know about the light from over the mountain that guides that publication. And it’s truly amazing that Javert would find such comfort being lined up with it.
Independent papers around the state, led by the Anniston Star, the Decatur News, the Tuscaloosa News and others, have adopted an appropriate attitude towards Javert, which can be summarized with one word: skepticism. Why is it that every couple of weeks we learn that another one of Javert’s immutable truths is just another lie? Why does Javert insist on hiding away all the papers surrounding Leura Canary’s quite remarkable “recusal”? Why does he disseminate another pack of completely absurd lies about the Time magazine article? At this point there are very few people left in Alabama who still believe Javert. And in another week, following the House Judiciary Committee hearings, there will be fewer still. Javert is a part of a culture of moral collapse and decrepitude. A culture that has taken a vise-like grip on the Justice Department in the Bush Administration. A culture that brought us institutionalized torture, detention camps outside the law, maurauding and murdering mercenaries, mass warrantless surveillance and wiretapping and–most tellingly–sweeping political prosecutions that betrayed the very essence of the professional calling of the federal prosecutor. This culture has nothing to do with justice and truth. It is indeed the enemy of truth and justice. It’s natural matrix is foetid and dark, it operates with innuendo and falsehood writ large, drawing heavily on the reputation of ancient and once noble institutions through which its rot swiftly spreads.
Victor Hugo’s Javert is a man who deludes himself into thinking that his persecutions have something to do with justice. He is a tragic figure. These are the essential aspects of Javert’s moral character:
Probity, sincerity, candor, conviction, the sense of duty, are things which may become hideous when wrongly directed; but which, even when hideous, remain grand: their majesty, the majesty peculiar to the human conscience, clings to them in the midst of horror; they are virtues which have one vice,–error. The honest, pitiless joy of a fanatic in the full flood of his atrocity preserves a certain lugubriously venerable radiance. Without himself suspecting the fact, Javert in his formidable happiness was to be pitied, as is every ignorant man who triumphs. Nothing could be so poignant and so terrible as this face, wherein was displayed all that may be designated as the evil of the good.
In the end, Javert overcame his self-delusion and recognized the great wrongs of which he is guilty. Thus Javert was a tragic figure, but one who ultimately succeeded to a proper vision. Will our latter-day Javert have the inner strength to understand his own wrongdoing and culpability and come to grips with it? So far there is not the slightest sign of essential redemption in his character and dealings. Only pettiness, dishonesty and self-deception.
The Decatur Daily devotes its lead editorial to Time’s report and Javert’s wailings:
The longer Republicans stonewall the Don Siegelman case the more they appear to be covering up political skullduggery that cuts to the heart of the judicial system. Congress is set for hearings into whether the former governor was the target of selective prosecution to enhance the Republican stronghold on state politics. Yet, the Bush White House is using all kinds of excuses to withhold the mounds of paper trail that might support Mr. Siegelman’s claim or vindicate the Justice Department and the Alabama attorney general’s office.
Last week, however, Time magazine obtained investigative documents that show one of the key witnesses in Mr. Siegelman’s corruption case said he also gave illegal contributions to U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions and U.S. Circuit Judge Bill Pryor, both Republicans and both former state attorneys general, who were not investigated… Prosecutors said that Lanny Young never alleged that he received anything in return for the contributions. Yet that didn’t stop the federal government, with help from the attorney general’s office, from prosecuting Mr. Siegelman for accepting $500,000 in lottery campaign money from HealthSouth founder and former CEO Richard Scrushy.
Prosecutors alleged Mr. Scrushy won appointment to a health regulatory board as a result of the contribution that went to help pay for the failed education lottery campaign. There is no evidence any of the money went to Mr. Siegelman for personal use. The lingering allegations also have credibility because of the political firings of nine federal prosecutors before Alberto Gonzales resigned earlier this year in disgrace.
[S]ince Mr. Franklin has decided to try and attack us as “out-of-state” anything, we better take his contrived words written in Washington apart. “Recently, a number of articles, editorials, and postings on blogs have been authored by ‘out-of-state’ reporters, columnists, and bloggers about the investigation and prosecution of Don Siegelman and Richard Scrushy,” he says.
Well, not all of us at the Locust Fork News and Journal, the Anniston Star, the Decatur Daily, etc. are “out of state.” In fact, we are right here in the neighborhood, and watched Mr. Franklin botch his first attempt at convicting Richard Scrushy in Birmingham. He was about as lame a lawyer as I’ve seen in my 27 years of covering trials.
“Though these media reports appear to be part of an orchestrated disinformation campaign about the case,” he says – seeming to attempt to take a page out of Karl Rove’s playbook, although really, it is Karl Rove’s playbook – “…they have generated questions that I want to address once and for all on the record because I believe the public has a right to know the truth.” Now considering for a second that Mr. Franklin has any inkling of what the truth is, he certainly doesn’t seem to be telling it in this case. And his comments may now be used against him in future cases.
“Leura Canary was not involved, in any way, in any of the decisions about who would and would not be prosecuted,” he claims. But we know the truth, don’t we? As we seem to recall, she was the one who brought the prosecution against Siegelman in Montgomery, after Bill Pryor tried and then got himself a seat on the appeals court without Senate confirmation, cozying up to Mr. Bush while Congress was in recess.
“Her recusal was scrupulously honored by me,” Franklin lies. There is ample evidence – and who would have it any other way – that of course they talked about the biggest case in town. The question is, what were they drinking. . . when they talked about it? So show us the documents, and especially that backdated recusal motion, and stop hiding behind a dead court reporter for refusing to release any of the trial records in this case, and most especially the trial transcript.
I’m told that several more editorials are in the works from every corner of the state, and Javert isn’t going to like any of them. Stand by for more later.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
Number of countries in which a citizen can be penalized for not voting:
The earth had become twice as dusty during the past century.
A man sued Pennsylvania state police who detained him for 29 days when they mistook his homemade soap for cocaine.
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”