How not to communicate with a U.S. senator about torture


Having had little success in my previous communications to our U.S. senators about the importance of holding accountable the architects of our torture program, I decided to try a back door — or a parallel universe — approach:

Subject: Request for advice
Date: Sun, 22 May 2011 00:54:16 +0000

Dear Senator Klobuchar:
I realize you are not involved in matters of justice at the local level, but given your experience both as a County Attorney and as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I thought I’d seek your advice.
Several weeks ago in my neighborhood there was a brutal beating. A young person was repeatedly kicked in the stomach, chest and face while lying on the ground and trying to protect himself. Police said there was evidence that this person had been tortured over an extended period of time. The victim survived the assault, but I believe he is still hospitalized.
A few days ago a friend of mine was having lunch with the County Attorney, and a fellow at a neighboring table was describing how he had had someone beaten about a month earlier. From the details, it was clear to my friend that it had been the incident with the young man in my neighborhood. The County Attorney heard the conversation too, but said nothing and proceeded to order dessert. My friend did not call the police, because the County Attorney was sitting right there and my friend assumed she would act on what she had heard.
Both my friend and the County Attorney know the individual from the restaurant. He is a prominent, well-connected person in the area. My friend later found out that this individual, in several settings around the city, had been retelling his role in the beating. Apparently, he had repeated the story on so many occasions it was almost as if he was on a book tour. My friend later checked to see if those investigating the assault had been given this information. They had not.
Coincidentally, my friend, who is a lawyer, happens to be on an advisory committee to the County Attorney. I think it’s called the County Attorney Board of Advisory Lawyers (CABAL), and it exists to oversee the functioning of the County Attorney’s office. Well, my friend doesn’t want to embarrass the County Attorney, whom he respects greatly, so he’s not sure if he should bring this issue up in a public forum like CABAL. And given the prominence of the man who ordered the beating, my friend, who is politically involved in the city, is also concerned about repercussions he could face, both with respect to his career and his future political aspirations.
I feel like I should encourage my friend to go public with what has occurred and insist that the County Attorney investigate the involvement of the restaurant braggart. But I know you have far more experience in these matters than I do, so I thought I’d ask what you would do in similar circumstances.
Any advice you could give would be greatly appreciated.

Chuck Turchick

For the first time in response to any of my emails to our senators, a staff person called me back. I was elated; I thought I had learned how to reach them. But I was wrong. Here’s my subsequent email:

Subject: RE: Request for advice
Date: Wed, 1 Jun 2011 15:01:36 +0000

Dear Senator Klobuchar:
It seems like my May 22, 2011, email, which I’ve included below, was interpreted literally by your staff. Allow me to clarify.
There was no prominent, well-connected person who so often repeated that he had ordered someone to be beaten and tortured that it seemed like he was on a book tour. Last fall, however, former President George W. Bush did in fact go on a book tour, during which he repeatedly said that he had ordered people to be waterboarded.
The County Attorney in my county — Hennepin County — is a “he,” not a “she.”
There is no outside board of lawyers that oversees the County Attorney, let alone a board called “CABAL.” You, however, are on a committee, the Senate Judiciary Committee, that does oversee the department headed up by the chief federal prosecutor, the Attorney General. Like my mythical County Attorney, the Attorney General is aware of the Bush statements and has done nothing.
When I asked what you would do “in similar circumstances,” you in fact are in similar circumstances.
Your staff person told me that in your capacity as a United States senator, you were not in a position to give me legal advice. If you were in a position to give such advice — and I feel I know what your advice might well have been — I suggest you take your own advice and raise this issue in a public body.
Sorry about the confusion. I’ll try not to make any future allegorical emails so convincing.
Chuck Turchick

So it goes.