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Monday, September 5, 2005

Execution and Evacuation


Click to Send PostcardThe operation that rescued our dear ones from captivity will be a subject for research, for song and for legend, and it will be written about in the annals of the nation.

Not quite the speech anyone can expect any time soon from President Bush. That was Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, in a special session of the Knesset on July 4, 1976, explaining Israel's reasons for a daring and successful rescue mission after an Air France airliner on a flight from Tel-Aviv to Paris via Athens was hijacked and flown to Entebbe, Uganda.

There’s probably not an Israeli or Palestinian to be found who would argue that regardless of the motives or reasoning, Israel proved that it would not tolerate the hijacking of its citizens and would go to rapid, efficient, and unsparing lengths to protect its own.

The results, unfortunately short lived, were indisputably successful. When Rabin expressed heartfelt thanks and appreciation to the I.D.F., the Chief of Staff, the General Staff, the arms of the forces “for risking their fives in the fulfillment of their duty,” unlike Michaels Brown and Chertoff, from FEMA and The Department of Homeland Security respectively, Rabin’s men actually deserved the acknowledgement, delivered with authenticity, not as spin.

Although I was only eleven at the time, I remember thinking that Israel’s actions were what governments did when her country’s citizens were threatened. Ironically and naively I arrived at that conclusion in South Africa, where I was born and raised, at the height of Apartheid, where the government was known to bend over backwards for her citizens – if they were white.

A bizarre déjà vu occurred for me as the horror of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina unfolded on television. It was the same disconnect that Apartheid had engineered that allowed the privileged and the wealthy to exist in genuine oblivion to the vast majority of the population. Strict censorship rather than reality television was the opium which enabled the apathy.

It seemed almost surreal this last week, where in San Francisco, warm and unthreatening weather required little more than shorts and T shirts, where clean water flowed freely from faucets, and a typical drive to the gym seemed sharply inappropriate, made even worse by the multi-channel images of horror, visible from a treadmill.

What I was witnessing was not in some other part of the world where access, resources or familiarity was a problem. The initial response evoked Robert Mugabe bulldozing the destitute of Zimbabwe, masked with a paper thin veneer of false compassion. Could all this really be playing out in a major American city? Could a country that flattened Hiroshima honesty be stymied from reaching a Convention Center in New Orleans to save a few lives?

I have fond memories of New Orleans. I spent a few days there in 2000, ironically, appearing with my attorneys before The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. I was fighting an attempt by the federal government to prevent me from revealing its insidious attempt to pry personal information on private citizens by imposing a gag order identical in scope to what would later become the Patriot Act. My attorneys were successful in getting the gag removed, allowing the First Amendment and privacy to trump government secrecy and abuse of power.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which has jurisdiction over Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, was located on 600 Camp Street, New Orleans, and I wondered what remained standing, not just physically, but from a judicial standpoint, given the abject failure of the legislative and executive branches of government, locally and federally.

As expected, as early as September 1st, the Court had automatically extended filing deadlines due on or after August 24th to September 12th, 2005. The same day FEMA director, Michael Brown, learned there were upwards of 20 000 people starving and desperate at the Convention Center, despite the twenty four seven media coverage.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit had granted blanket, automatic extensions with one notable, horrifying exception, that screamed volumes. “True emergency matters, e.g. death penalty cases with execution dates, or deportation matters with an imminent and confirmed deportation dates,” were provided an immediate solution, which had been already orchestrated and set up at the Chambers of Chief Judge Carolyn Dineen King, in Houston Texas.

There you have it.

Oh that the execution of our emergency response matched the response to our emergency executions. As our government stalled, clueless as to how to save lives or get people evacuated, the mechanisms to kill and deport them were up and running with the mechanical efficiency of a slick, well-oiled machine.

Clinton Fein can be reached at clinton@annoy.com


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