(In which our fearless heroine, Iris Vander Pluym, regresses to a blithering adolescent fangirl upon meeting her hero Glenn Greenwald, exactly like she did that one other time when she met Robert Plant back in the 80s.)
Today I attended the morning sessions of a conference at The Center on Law and Security at the NYU School of Law entitled “The Constitution and National Security: The First Amendment Under Attack.” (Details here.) The opening remarks by Anthony Romero, Executive Director of ACLU, were provocative and disturbing. He spoke eloquently of the organization’s role and recent developments in the suit brought by the ACLU against the U.S. government on behalf of the father of radical Islamist cleric and American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki. Mr. al-Awlaki has been placed by the Obama administration on a hit list targeted for killing – with no due process of any kind and far from any battlefield. One interesting development is that his videos were pulled from youtube this week at the behest of the US and UK governments. Mr. Romero also provided depressing updates on the farcical military tribunals at Guantanamo, as well as his pessimistic assessment of the possibility for any progress on civil rights issues given the recent election results and looming Republican takeover of the relevant committees in the House. However, he ultimately ended on an upbeat note: he related that although at times he finds himself exhausted and impatient, he takes hope and inspiration from his international colleagues, i.e. leaders of domestic rights groups from other nations, with whom he meets a few times a year.* In particular, he gave a shout out to his counterpart in Argentina, who tells him his problem is that his thinking is too short-term: Argentina is finally seeing at least some accountability and justice, 37 years after its “Dirty War” in which thousands of political dissidents were kidnapped, murdered, and “disappeared” (with the helpful assistance of the CIA).
He mentioned free speech issues with respect to the incitement to violence, which is one of the issues in Mr. al-Awlaki’s case. Under the current legal framework, the standard that the government must meet in order to prosecute otherwise protected political or religious speech is whether or not the violence incited by such speech is of an “imminent” nature. That is, you cannot be prosecuted if your speech somehow inspires another person to commit violent acts at a later time. Mr. Romero had indicated that there is currently a push to loosen that standard, and was kind enough to entertain my question with respect to domestic terrorism during the Q&A:
“With respect to the idea of loosening the requirement that the allegedly incited violence be imminent, it seems those proposing this have not really thought this through. For example, a case can certainly be made that some fundamentalist Christian sermons incite non-imminent violence against gays, or abortion providers. Wouldn’t the same standard apply to that speech, and can you speak to that?”
He briefly took me through the current standards regarding the anti-choice websites targeting abortion doctors, and recommended that I read this book by one of today’s panelists, Geoffrey Stone.
The first panel was a very good discussion on the subject of WikiLeaks (I thought Scott Horton was fantastic). But the highlight of the day, and the primary reason I attended in the first place, was the second panel on free speech and incitement, in which one of my most favoritist bloggers evah, Glenn Greenwald, took part. The panel also included Niall Brennan, Coordinating Supervisory Special Agent, Intelligence Division, New York FBI, and the discussion was quite lively, although I wouldn’t call it heated. The fireworks came after the panel discussion during the Q&A when a reporter from NPR went after Glenn Greenwald for supposed inaccuracies in his reporting on the poor journalism (including hers if I recall correctly) regarding the al-Awlaki case, in particular the mainstream American media’s usual practice of stenographic repetition of government claims, with no evidence provided, regarding al-Awlaki’s alleged terrorist activities. Suffice it to say she did not fare well in that exchange with Mr. Greenwald. If there’s video to be had at some point, I’ll definitely post it.
Now it would have been a great day if it had ended right there, but no! I had to mill around the dais afterward like a goddamn groupie to ask him to sign my copy of his book, Great American Hypocrites, and he graciously indulged me. Instead of coherently expressing my sincere belief that his writing is both an extremely important contribution to the discourse in our country as well as profoundly inspiring to me on a personal level, instead I gushed like a crazed schoolgirl, “Can I get a picture with you?!” And to his immense credit, he graciously indulged me again.
And that, my friends, is why Glenn Greenwald today receives Perry Street Palace’s coveted Major Award, Rock Star Blogger of the Day.
* These international meetings of rights group leaders take place every four months, and, interestingly enough, are entirely funded by a grant from George Soros.