Exclusive: Conrad Black's Jail Diary
I write to you from a US federal prison. It is far from a country club or even a regimental health spa. I work quite hard but very fulfillingly, teaching English and the history of the United States to some of my co-residents. There is practically unlimited access to emails, and the media, and plenty of time for visitors.
Many of the other co-residents are quite interesting and affable, often in a Damon Runyan way, and the regime is not uncivilized. In eight months here, there has not been the slightest unpleasantness with anyone.
It is a little like going back to boarding school, which I somewhat enjoyed, nearly fifty years ago (before being expelled for insubordination), and is a sharp change of pace after sixteen years as chairman of the Daily Telegraph. I can report that a change is not always as good as a rest.
My appeal continues. Given the putrification of the US justice system and the correlation of forces between the American government and myself, it is an unsought but distinct honour to fight this out as I am and to have already won 85 per cent of the case and 99 per cent of the financial case.
The initial allegation against me of a “$500 million corporate kleptocracy” has shrunk to a false finding against me that even some of the jurors have already fled from in post-trial comments, of the under-documented receipt of $2.9 million. There is no evidence to support this charge. My book about the travails of the last six years will be published in the spring.
US Federal prosecutors, almost all of whom would be disbarred for their antics if they were in Britain or Canada, win over 90 per cent of their cases, thanks to the withering of the constitutional guaranties of due process, the grand jury as an assurance against capricious prosecution, no seizure of property without just compensation, access to counsel, an impartial jury, speedy justice and reasonable bail.
We did not know the grand jury was sitting, have never seen the transcript of its proceedings, and I was denied counsel of choice by the ex parte seizure, which the jury later judged to be improper, of the proceeds of the sale of an apartment in New York that I was going to use as the retainer for trial counsel.
I have been persecuted by one arm or more of the US government for over five years and had to post bond of $38 million. The system is based on the plea bargain, the bare-faced exchange of incriminating testimony for immunity or a reduced sentence. It is intimidation and suborned or extorted perjury, an outright rape of any plausible definition of justice.
Apart from missing terribly the constant companionship of my magnificent wife Barbara, who visits me once or twice or even three times each week, and lives nearby in our Florida home with her splendid Hungarian dogs, I enjoy some aspects of my status as a victim of the American prosecutocracy. The US is now a carceral state that imprisons eight to twelve times more people (2.5 million) per capita as the UK, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, or Japan.
US justice has become a command economy based on the avarice of private prison companies, a gigantic prison service industry, and politically influential correctional officers’ unions (750,000 members), agitating for an unlimited increase in the number of prosecutions and the length of sentences. The entire “War on Drugs” by contrast, is a classic illustration of supply side economics: a trillion taxpayers’ dollars squandered, and a million small fry imprisoned at a cost of $50 billion a year, as supply of and demand for illegal drugs have increased, prices have fallen, and product quality has improved.
I wish to advise Lord Hurd of Westwell that when I return to the UK, I would like to take up more energetically than I did initially, his request for assistance in his custodial system reform activities.
It has been immensely gratifying to receive a steadily increasing volume of supportive messages from all over the world, many from the UK, and from almost every state of the US, expressing outrage at what a disgrace this entire proceeding has been.
It has also been a grim pleasure to expose the hypocrisy of the corporate governance establishment, who have bankrupted our Canadian company and reduced the share price of the American one from $21, when I left, to a miraculous two cents (yes, two cents). They have vaporised $2 billion of public shareholder value; fine titles in several countries have deteriorated, and for their infamies, the protectors of the public interest have cheerfully trousered over $200 million themselves.
Obviously, the bloom is off my long-notorious affection for America. But I note from recent anti-American comment in Britain and Europe that the habit of blaming anything that goes awry in the world on the US continues, as Europe has since the American rejection of the Treaty of Versailles, is alive and well.
But the United States has not disintegrated and American capitalism is not dead, nor even in failing health. The recent financial upheavals have exposed the folly of the US Congress and Federal Reserve in promoting home ownership by low-income families through mandating trillions of dollars of unsound mortgages by private sector lenders, and maintaining artificially low interest rates for years. This eliminated the US savings rate and translated it into uneconomic residential construction in weak financial hands.
This, and Wall Street’s muddying the waters with complicated debt packages and unreliable “default swaps,” all with regulatory acquiescence, will aggravate a cyclical recession and take some time to shake out. But what is invalidated is not capitalism, or the strength of America, but a compulsive search for a political free lunch by the US Congress, abusing its powers by legislating unsound home ownership with the private sector’s money.
They squiggled through the late US election with all their bi-partisan bunk about greed and sloppy regulation. Despite the jubilant obsequies for American pre-eminence, the United States is winning, essentially single-handedly, the battle for a pro-Western secular government in Iraq with some power-sharing, an Arab novelty. It will finally do the necessary to reduce oil imports and its unsustainable current account deficit.
Not so much as a terrorist firecracker has gone off in the Americas in the last seven years and international concern about terrorism is not a fraction of what it was following the attacks on New York and Washington, or even on London and Madrid.
The United States has just retained the riveted interest of the whole world, most of which does not wish it well, in the billion-dollar vulgarity of its election process, for an entire year.
And it surely has earned the respect of the world in elevating a very capable leader as the first non-white to head any Western nation. I would be distinctly consolable if the United States really was in decline, and I have more legitimate grievances against that country than do the Guardian or the BBC, but it is still a country of incomparable vitality, even as its moral, judicial soul atrophies and reeks.
Those of us who are appalled by some foibles of the United States do not do ourselves a favour by announcing an American sunset two centuries prematurely.
(Note: this is a longer version of the diary that runs in the new issue of Spear's.)
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