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I Stand Before the Court
The quest for justice continues.


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Conrad Black

 

And obstruction — it is clear from the evidence that I had nothing to do with selecting or packing the contents of the boxes, had no knowledge of any SEC interest in them after complying completely with five of its subpoenas, and after being assured by Mrs. Maida that it did not violate the Canadian document-retention order, and checking with the acting president of the company, whose letter you have, I helped to carry out the boxes under the gaze of security cameras that I had installed. When these boxes arrived here, they were very full, so if I had taken anything out of them, why would I not have put them at any time over many weeks in my pockets or a briefcase? Your Honor, again, to remove documents improperly in this way, I would have had to be barking, raving mad, and insanity is almost the only failing of which the prosecutors have not accused me.

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I would like to express here my gratitude to you, Your Honor, for sending me to a prison with e-mail access, where I was able to stay in touch with supporters and with readers of my newspaper and magazine columns. And I must also express my gratitude to the originally small but distinguished and often intellectually brave group of friends, but also of total strangers, who never believed I was guilty, when that was a less fashionable position, harder to argue, than it has become. Their numbers grew to be an army that now includes many people in every American state and Canadian province, and region of the United Kingdom, and people in many other countries. And my gratitude to the many friends I made, inmates and correctional personnel, at the Coleman Low Security Prison, whom I shall not forget, is beyond my ability to express today.

I am of the tradition that tends not to speak publicly of personal matters, but Your Honor, I hope it is acceptable to you if I vary that practice slightly, and briefly, in concluding, today. As you would know, or could surmise from many letters that have been sent to you by people qualified to comment, and as is mentioned in our presentencing submission of May 27, quoting a column of mine about prison reform in Canada, I believe in the confession and repentance of misconduct and in the punishment of crime. I don’t believe in false or opportunistic confessions.

It is not the case, as has been endlessly alleged by the prosecutors, that I have no remorse. I regret that my skepticism about corporate-governance zealotry, though it was objectively correct and has been demonstrated to have been so in the destruction of these companies, became so identified with the companies themselves that the shareholders all suffered from it. I regret that I was too trusting of the honesty of one associate and of the thoroughness of some others, and the buck has stopped with me. I repent those and other tactical errors and mistakes of attitude, Your Honor, and I do not resent paying for those errors, because it is right, and in any case inevitable, that people should pay for their mistakes.

I concluded many years ago in my brief stint as a candidate psychoanalyst that it is practically impossible to repress conscientious remorse. And I concluded some years later in reading some of the works of the recently beatified Cardinal Newman, that I agreed with his opinion that our consciences are a divine impulse speaking within us, as Newman wrote, “powerful, peremptory, and definitive.” My conscience functions like that of other people, and I respond to it, if not precisely as my accusers would wish. But they are prosecutors, not custodians of the consciences of those whom they accuse.

Your Honor, please do not doubt that even though I don’t much speak of it, my family and I have suffered deeply from the onslaught of these eight years. I agree with the late pope who said “Life is cruciform.” All people suffer. It is a stern message, but need not be a grim one. We rarely know why we suffer, and only those who have faith even believe there is a reason. No one can plausibly explain in moral terms a natural disaster, or a personal tragedy. I see life as a privilege and almost all challenges as opportunities, and have always tried to take success like a gentleman, and disappointment like a man.

Whatever the reason my family and I have had to endure this ordeal, for our purposes today, in these personal questions, I only ask that you take into account the messages you have received about collateral medical problems in my family. I do not worry about myself, and I will not speak further in open court of the worries I do have for my family. But I most earnestly request, Your Honor, that as someone who has shown and expressed family sensibilities several times in this case, that they too be taken into account in your sentence.

And I believe that even if a reasonable person still concludes that I am guilty of these two surviving, resurrected, counts, tortuously arrived at and threadbare though their evidentiary basis now is, that the same reasonable person would conclude that I have been adequately punished. I only ask you to recall the criterion you eloquently invoked near the end of the trial that the justice system not be brought into disrepute by an unjust sentence.

I conclude by quoting parts of a famous poem by Kipling, with which I’m sure many in the court are familiar, and which I had known too, but not as well as I knew it after it was sent to me by well-wishers from every continent except Antarctica. And to the extent I was able, I tried to keep in mind throughout these difficult years, what Kipling wrote, which was, in part and as memory serves: 

If you can keep your head while all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust your own counsel though all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you wait but are not tired of waiting,

Are lied about, but don’t deal in lies,

If some men hate you but you don’t stoop to hating;

And don’t look too good or talk too wise;

If you can talk but don’t make words your master,

Can think but don’t make thoughts your aim,

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster,

But treat both those impostors just the same. . . .

 

And I address this directly to the prosecutors and some of the media:

If you can bear to hear the truths you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

And see the work you gave your life to broken,

And stoop to fix it up with worn-out tools;

If you can make a pile of all your winnings,

And risk it on a turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginning,

And never say a word about your loss. . . .

 

And Kipling goes on to say that the reader will then be a man. Your Honor, when I first appeared in your court six years ago and you asked me my age, it was 61. If I’m not a man now, I never will be.

I never ask for mercy and seek no one’s sympathy. I would never, as was once needlessly feared in this court, be a fugitive from justice in this country, only a seeker of it. It is now too late to ask for justice. But with undimmed respect for this country, this court, and if I may say so, for you personally, I do ask you now to avoid injustice, which it is now in your gift alone to do.

 

I apologize for the length of my remarks, and thank you, for hearing me out, Your Honor.

 

— Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom and Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full. He can be reached at [email protected].



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