What happened to Christmas? Only one month ago there were carols, candles, colored lights, presents and happy people. Then came January and cold, grey gloomy weather with glum people wondering where the sun went.
On the other hand, if you are in need of more self-flagellation you could be where American Paul Whelan is, a courtroom in the glummest of all places, Russia in January. You talk about grey. Being in Moscow and Volgograd, Russia in the winter of 2003 was like living inside a wet, icy-cold burlap bag for Peg and me. And as our son, Jim, says, “You can always pick out the American tourists from the Russian natives, the Americans are the only ones smiling”.
Of course, as in all of life there are a few positives of the Russian winter. Russian’s three greatest military generals are January, February and March. Just ask Napoleon and Hitler. And when the National Judicial College sent me to Russia in 2003 to teach Russian judges about jury trials Peg and I spent four days in Volgograd (the old Stalingrad) where a million and a half Russian soldiers and half a million German soldiers slaughtered one another in six months. It is analogous to America multiplying our Civil War by three and cramming it into half of 1863. No wonder so many Russians are not smiling.
Another reason not to smile is the Russian legal system, especially what they call jury trials. That is why the NJC sent me there. In January 2003 Russia had once again, as part of the country’s long history of their fits and starts “right to trial by jury”, reinstituted some jury trials for some alleged crimes. The NJC tasked me to teach Russian judges from all over Russia how America tries jury cases. I do not know what I was able to impart to the Russian judges, but Peg and I sure learned a lot. Mainly we learned that by a mere accident of birth we received one of life’s greatest gifts, American citizenship.
These recollections were brought back to me when I saw a photograph in the Palm Beach Sun Sentinel newspaper of Paul Whelan in a cage in a Russian courtroom. Hang on. I know it’s Florida, but as you can readily see I am not just lounging on the beach. I am working; at least I am writing this column.
Anyway, back to the matter at hand. I have no idea if the former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan is a spy as charged by Russia. He says he is not, what a surprise. However, he received a Bad Conduct Discharge from the Marines for theft and he has citizenship in four countries, United States, Ireland, Canada and Great Britain. That sounds suspicious but may just mean he likes Anglo Saxons. That alone might make him a suspect in Russia, a country that used to be the heart of the old Soviet Union with its conglomeration of fifteen countries and seventy-seven languages, none of which had an Anglo, Saxon or Celtic base.
What the photographs show is Whelan in a cage, in a courtroom, trying to communicate through a translator with his attorney and through the bars and in front of everyone. When the Russian judges asked me to critique a jury trial of a man charged with murdering two people, I had difficulty being diplomatic. With the judge and jury in place and the Russian prosecutor wearing a blue military type uniform seated between the mothers of the two murder victims right in front of the jury, the courtroom doors burst open and this is what Peg and I and the judge and jury saw: four guards armed with AK 47 rifles escorting the handcuffed defendant into court and locking him into a cage.
Well, Gentle Reader, you see the problem.