Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” was one of the most remarkable movies of the past year. The movie focuses on the trials of youth leaders who were arrested in relation to the massive rally that was held in protest of the Vietnam War during a Democratic Party congress in the United States in August 1968. While Sorkin highlights some of the scandalous scenes showcasing the reality of “American democracy”, he also includes footage involving the FBI, the governors, mayors, city police and judges, essentially, the entire oppressive system, at different stages of the trial processes.
One of the film’s most striking scenes takes place at the residence of the former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who is a very influential but unpopular and feared figure among the Democrats. Two young men representing the defendants, Tom Hayden and Leonard Weinglass, and their attorney William Kunstler, go to Clark’s residence to request him to testify in court. However, they come across an unpleasant surprise when they arrive: two officials from the Department of Justice, one of the institutions that hassled ‘the Chicago Seven’, who were personally invited by Clark himself. Given that the lawyer and student leaders thought they were going to talk to Clark privately, they ask what the two officials were doing there, to which Clark replies that he wanted them around when he agreed to testify.
“Swear me in. When do you want me in the court?” Clark asks, smiling at Tom Hayden.
Ramsey Clark agreed to testify on behalf of defendants in a case where the jury was tampered, the defendants were wiretapped and gagged, and where serious threats continued to come in from higher powers. His participation would disturb the “system” and cause a huge stir during the trial.
From Vietnam to Iraq; from Yugoslavia to Syria
Ramsey Clark, who died on April 9, 2021, at the age of 94, had a reputation as a wolf of the court who never lost his courage. He was one of the most prominent figures throughout the world, especially around issues of civil rights, human rights, and war crimes. He remained just as brave as he was in the Chicago Seven trial when he went to Vietnam to protest the bloody war the United States was waging there in 1972, when he met Fidel Castro in Cuba, when he resisted against the invasion of Panama in 1989, when he sided with the leaders such as Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein when they were attacked by the western imperialism, and when he paid a visit to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
He treated all of his clients as equals before the law, he defended both Soviet Jews and a Nazi prison camp guard. Like his French colleague Jacques Verge, he often claimed that it was not his clients who were guilty, but the system itself, and occasionally pointed the fingers at those who persecuted in the first place even while acknowledging his client’s guilt, perfecting the art of the “rupture defense”.
Clark, who initiated the fight against segregation laws in the United States and played a crucial role in the creation of the historical Voting Rights Act in 1965, traveled extensively to reveal the war crimes all around the world after his official duties ended.
Clark’s international fame came in 1980 when he attended and gave a speech during a conference on the “Grievances of the United States” in Tehran after the Islamic Revolution. After the retaining of the US embassy in Tehran and the crisis of 53 American diplomats being taken as hostages, he claimed this action was “understandable”, while calling on the United States to pay damages to Iran. He filed a lawsuit against the US government in 1986 over the airstrikes on Libya. Ramsey Clark turned his activism into an international campaign when the United States attacked Iraq in the Gulf War in 1991, and fought for all 12 years of the total Invasion of Iraq in 2003, prosecuting the United States for its war crimes.
Panel in Turkey on “Operation Provide Comfort”
Clark, one the most devoted critics of the US foreign policy, who described the millions of taxpayer dollars spent for the country to act as world police “madness”, went to Turkey and took part in the “Operation Provide Comfort” (Poised Hammer) Panel organized by Dogu Perincek, the leader of the former Socialist Party (today known as Patriotic Party or Vatan Party), against the American military campaigns in the Persian Gulf. During an interview two years after the panel, Perincek stated that they had a huge support from Clark when raising a public awareness about the US’ plans for Turkey.
Clark, who had been the director of the International Action Center (IAC), the largest anti-war civil organization in the United States, made these statements after the September 11 attacks in 2001:
“Our foreign policy has been a disaster since long before that planning guide — for a lot longer than we’d like to believe. We can look all the way back to the arrogance of the Monroe Doctrine, when the United States said, “This hemisphere is ours,” ignoring all the other people who lived here, too. For a part of this past century, there were some constraints on our capacity for arbitrary military action — what you might call the inhibitions of the Cold War — but with the collapse of the Soviet Union, we’ve acquired a headier sense of what we can get away with.
(…) Our overriding purpose, from the beginning right through to the present day, has been world domination — that is, to build and maintain the capacity to coerce everybody else on the planet: nonviolently, if possible; and violently, if necessary.
(…) I’m not talking about just military domination. US trade policies are driven by the exploitation of poor people the world over.
(…) When the Gulf War started in 1991, you could almost feel a reverence come over the country. We had a forty-two-day running commercial for militarism. Nearly everybody was glued to CNN, and whenever they saw a Tomahawk cruise missile taking off from a navy vessel somewhere in the Persian Gulf, they practically stood up and shouted, “Hooray for America!” But that missile was going to hit a market in Basra or someplace, destroy three hundred food stalls, and kill forty-two very poor people. And we considered that a good thing.”
“The US is not a democracy, it is a plutocracy”
Clark famously claimed that the United States is not a democracy but a plutocracy, and that the concentration of wealth and the division between rich and poor in the US were unequaled anywhere in the world. He kept asking this simple question: “And think of whom we admire most: the Rockefellers and Morgans, the Bill Gateses and Donald Trumps. Would any moral person accumulate a billion dollars when there are 10 million infants dying of starvation every year? Is that the best thing you can find to do with your time?”
One of Clark’s main focuses in his last few years was the ongoing conflict in Syria, which has gone through many attempts of partitioning and disintegration. He made a series of visits to the country after the civil war broke out. Clark met with Bashar al-Assad in Damascus along with a delegation of former Congress members, journalists, and other anti-war activists on September 18th 2013, calling himself a “friend of Syria” and openly protesting American policies against the country.
“J’Accuse…!” (I accuse…!), said Emile Zola, in his historic article about the famous Dreyfus Affair in 1898. The respectable law attorney Ramsey Clark raised his voice much the same way, from the second half of the 20th century up until the 21st century, always standing on the side of oppressed peoples, loudly proclaiming “I accuse the United States!” with his many manifestos.
Much like Zola’s accusation, Clark’s brave and defiant condemnation of US imperialism will go down in history and resonate through the ages.