BY COURTENAY BARNETT
THE ADDRESS TO CONGRESS WHICH ( IN MY WILDEST IMAGINATON NEEDS TO BE HAD) – AT THE TIME OF IMPEACHMENT OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE U.S.
Honourable Chairman, distinguished members of this joint sitting of the Congress of the United States of America, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen, I am truly honoured to have been asked to address this august body.
The historical context
I am Jamaican by birth, human by accident of existence, and an aspirant to be of a higher order’s making, yet truly humanitarian at heart. Why this humble person should have been asked to address one of the world’s ( if not the world’s – save and except the UN General Assembly’s) most powerful bodies ( if not bodies combined) – totally astounds and defeats my wildest imagination. Nevertheless, here I am, so I advance in response to the three(3) issues I have been asked to speak on:-
- What is my opinion of what is the greatest strength of the Constitution of the United States of America?
- What is my opinion of the Constitution’s greatest weakness?
- What is my opinion on the recent impeachment of President Donald J. Trump?
The first question
In answer I can be very brief. It is that the U.S. Constitution is a well crafted document designed to ensure that there is strong governmental oversight with accountability and checks and balances.
The second question
This is a more complex matter, for the Constitution as a living document subject to the socio-economic environment within which it operates lends itself susceptible to the power within and impact from that very environment. I shall explain with one (1) central and important example.
Now let us raise two(2) important names in US Post World War 11 history. The first is George Kennan – but – who was he? He was the US Ambassador to Moscow and then the US architect of the ‘Cold War’. Truly a brilliant man who authored a series of foreign policy papers which defined more than over half a century. Here is what he said with foresight:-
“Were the Soviet Union to sink tomorrow under the waters of the ocean, the American military-industrial establishment would have to go on, substantially unchanged, until some other adversary could be invented. Anything else would be an unacceptable shock to the American economy.”
He was correct and presaged what then in his farewell speech General ( Later – President) Eisenhower had to say with great sagacity and prescience to the American people:-
“So is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
Stated briefly – he was saying – beware the military-industrial complex.
That is the nub of this, my Congressional address. All of you are there.
- Where is the rationality in building and stockpiling more armaments ( many nuclear ones) which can never be deployed against another nuclear power without the predetermined outcome of mutually assured destruction ( MAD)?
- What sense is there in building this global arsenal of bases and war planes and armadas and more weaponry – on and on and on?
- Where in your Congressional oversight and is there anyone who ever begins to ask rational questions – such as the forgoing just posed?
I could proceed – but you would have to invite me back to present a full-throated delivery. Far too diplomatic to proceed further on this occasion – lest I offend.
The third question
Here, I see that there is both a Constitutional and political problem in the United States of America.
So, here I stand, before you as an invitee to address the difficulties which your country presently faces.
I could lay a foundation to build on a structure of historical references. Rather, I speak and shall limit myself to the truth about and immediate impact of the impeachment. I do believe that what I have to say can be coded and encapsulated in quite diplomatic terms from which your own honest determination can make as an informed decision. I do so by way of an analogy.
The problem in essence is that there is a President who is alleged to have abused his high office?
I am not an American and so, while on American terrain, let me then address you in this wholly diplomatic manner.
I therefore reason, as I said I would, by way of analogy.
Say, for instance, a lawyer of great experience finds himself or herself asked by a Judge to represent on legal aid, an indigent female client.
The lawyer accepts.
The lady attends for first interview – and she happens to be extremely attractive.
The lawyer after accepting the professional obligation, in private, in coded language, makes clear to the client that while he is willing to advance her case, it would be subject to conditionalities of an amorous sort. He effectively seeks a ‘favour’ from the lady. He goes further and indicates relative to his professional duty that he could expedite to trial or he could await a longer route to trial. Unbeknown to him, a member of his office staff overhears the conversation and is appalled. The staff member anonymously brings the matter to the attention of the Ethics Committee of the Bar association. In effect there is this ‘whistle blowing’.
The lawyer discovers that a formal complaint has anonymously been lodged against him in a two(2) pronged process:-
- To the Ethics Committee of the Bar Association to see whether or not there is a serious matter to be addressed and then be referred upwards.
- Reference to the Disciplinary Committee of the Bar Association, if there is a case to be answered.
The lawyer treats the Ethics Committee with total contempt and tells them that he will not be present and says further that the process is a total sham and that it is a ‘witch hunt’ and forbids all his staff from speaking to the Ethics Committee.
The Ethics Committee in those circumstances examines the limited evidence which they have and in turn decide that the conduct ( read: misconduct) is sufficiently serious to be referred to the Disciplinary Committee. There is a case to answer.
The lawyer, knowing full well that his close and personal associations with all the members of the Disciplinary Committee, who are friends of his and/or persons who are wholly dependent upon him for referral of case work – which he is most able to feed to all and sundry – sits back with ease.
I am a total outsider – yet – I posit a humble opinion based on my legal knowledge. It is for you to decide whether or not the conduct of such a person, be it the lawyer or the President of the United States is ethical, is principled, is in accordance with the requirements and requisite standards of his office.
As I said, I am not an American citizen, but I realise that America has a Constitutional crisis on her hands.
Thank you for having afforded me this opportunity.
While the lawyer in my analogous reference, is standing on safe ground – what does that auger for the future of the integrity of the lawyer’s Bar Association and legal system? Without undue interference – in any future American electoral process – what does President Trump’s situation auger for the American Constitution?
I remain most appreciative that this, again stated, august body, thought me worthy to address to their elected members.
* COURTENAY BARNETT is a graduate of London University. His areas of study were economics, political science and international law. He has been a practising lawyer for over thirty years, has been arrested for defending his views, has been subjected to death threats, and has argued public interest and human rights cases. He lives and works in the Caribbean.