For two years, I have avoided mention in this column of my legal travails, and only vary that this week, in matters already on the public record, at the request of the commissioning editor. Throughout these five challenging years, most people whom my wife Barbara and I really considered to be friends have behaved as friends.
My late father, who died more than 30 years ago, and was a very intelligent man, if somewhat eccentric in his later years, admired William F. Buckley and Henry Kissinger more than any other living Americans. It has been a particular honour to have had those men as friends for more than 20 years now. They have both referred to our relations in those terms publicly many times, and Dr. Kissinger did so under oath early in these baneful proceedings. I am often asked about my current relations with them, in particular.
Mr. Buckley sent the judge in our case an extremely generous and unjustifiably flattering letter about me. Given his great prestige and celebrity, it was surely useful. He also published a piece about me last Wednesday, which I saw on the National Review Web site. He confirmed that he was a friend, and that all our mutual friends were "close to unanimity of opinion that Conrad Black has nobly enhanced the human cause," which is embarrassingly high praise.
However, he also wrote that he had been asked by one of my lawyers to write to the judge for me, and that this was a "painful commission. ... It seemed to this friend, as to quite a few others, that he [i.e. I] probably was guilty on at least one of the charges." He helpfully advised his readers that the convictions are "not quite the same thing as" what Lee Harvey Oswald did to John F. Kennedy; that I had presented an alternative defense of innocence and, even if not innocent, that what I did wasn't illegal, and that he had had to restrain himself from writing to the judge about the law and facts of the case.
For no evident reason, he also gave his bowdlerized version of why I am not, at the moment, a Canadian citizen, and concluded that "the tragedy is now complete in the matter of Conrad Black. Only he had the courage and the sweep to throw it all away. Leaving, for his friends, just terrible sadness that it should end like this." One of the most professional journalists who covered the trial in Chicago wrote asking me if, since "WFB ... obviously thinks the jury got it right, do you feel you are being tossed under the bus by your friend?"
No, I do not, though I am disappointed. The facts are that I asked a mutual friend to ask Mr. Buckley if he would prefer not to be asked to write a character reference for me to the judge. I wanted to make it easy for him to decline. He replied that he would like to do so, and so I asked him, explaining that if, on reflection, he would rather not, I would perfectly understand. He insisted that he did wish to write the judge, and asked for guidelines, which one of my counsel sent him, asking him to avoid all discussion of the case itself. He claimed to find it a pleasing "commission." My counsel have never hinted at an alternative defense. My defense is and always has been: Not Guilty.
More perplexing is his assertion that my "friends," including Mr. Buckley himself, thought I was probably at least partially guilty as charged. Well-disposed people who think that are likely not to be familiar with the facts and the current state of U.S. criminal procedure. Friends don't usually act like that.
Mr. Buckley's late, wonderful, Canadian wife, Pat, concluded our last exchange by proclaiming that it was obvious that I was innocent. Mr. Buckley and I share many philosophical and religious views. He knows my admiration for the United States. And he cannot be unaware of the gradual redefinition in recent decades of the Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendment guarantees of due process, the grand jury as insurance against capricious prosecution, the prohibition against seizure of property without just compensation, speedy justice, access to counsel of choice and reasonable bail.
He, of all people, knows, and has written countless times, that some principles transcend the convenience of those trying to defend them. He referred on Wednesday (as have some less eminent commentators) to my "raw impiety" for criticizing the prosecutors.
To question the antics of some U.S. prosecutors is not impiety. I would not expect most observers to recognize that I am fighting not just for my life and liberty, but also for the benefit of certain constitutionally guaranteed rights essential to the rule of law. I did expect that from Mr. Buckley, a conscientious, loyal and intellectually fearless friend.
Knowing Mr. Kissinger as well as I do, I suspected that he would behave as Richard Nixon told me he generally did when a colleague came under pressure: privately declare solidarity with both sides and separate himself, so that neither side would confuse him with the other side, until it became clear which side had won. He promised more, and I hoped for more, but Mr. Kissinger is an 84-year old fugitive from Nazi pogroms, and has made his way famously in the world by endlessly recalibrating the balance of power and correlation of forces in all situations.
The correlation of forces between the U.S. government and me has obviously been generally unpromising, and Mr. Kissinger has less natural affinity for the principles involved here than Mr. Buckley does. His statements, publicly and to the FBI, that I am probably guilty of something but that he "never deserts a friend," are not heroic or even accurate, but on past form, not altogether a surprise either.
Mr. Buckley wrote last Wednesday that I had claimed from the start that the charges against me "sought to vest in judicial infamy that which is in the nature of things blameless." Those "contending otherwise were obtuse and vindictive, and should be put away somewhere to prevent the toxification of the Common Law and the resources of reason on Earth." This is an endearing exaggeration. But the underlying points of my resistance are not a suitable subject of mockery from one of America's greatest champions of individual liberty.
They are both great men, in their different ways, and their friendship, no matter how idiosyncratic, would be a matter of pride to anyone, as it is to me. I am sure that they will eventually see that it is not necessary to dissemble about our relations and that I have not thrown "it all away." If our appeal is unsuccessful, they can share their "terrible sadness" with their country and aspects of its justice system.
For such men and for the sake of happy days gone by, that could yet return, I offer the other cheek, but not unilateral verbal disarmament. They need only survive and retain their faculties a while longer to see that my present embattled condition is not, as Mr. Buckley wrote, "the end." I wish that for them, and all other good things.
Mr. Black can be reached at [email protected]