Friday, November 19, 2010

Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters by Louis Begley (Yale University Press)

In 1894 the French artillery captain Alfred Dreyfus was wrongfully convicted of treason and imprisoned on Devil's Island. For Devil's Island read Guantánamo Bay, says the novelist and lawyer Louis Begley, who uncovers numerous parallels between l'affaire Dreyfus and "the Bush-Cheney heritage of trampling on America's international obligations under both the Geneva conventions and the UN Convention Against Torture while at the same time evading or violating the laws and constitution of the United States". Everyone has a right to a fair trial, he argues, but, just as Dreyfus was a victim of anti-Semitism, so many Guantánamo detainees are victims of anti-Islamism. In France, the liberal establishment exposed the military conspiracy that had imprisoned an innocent man; in America, Begley observes, "journalists dedicated to exposing the abuses of the Bush administration", as well as federal judges, military and civilian lawyers and law professors, took it upon themselves to defend the Guantánamo detainees. "They have redeemed the honour of the nation."

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