May 9, 2012

Judge’s Wizard of Oz analogy too much for Government censors


Is the Wizard of Oz just too much for the innocent American public? Government censors think so.

The Electronic Frontiers Foundation blog DeepLinks does a weekly round-up called “this week in transparency.”  Among this worrying list of secrecy about drones and surveillance, was something of a more literary bent.

It appears that the Government chose to censor a DC Circuit Judge’s rather inane Wizard of Oz analogy, in the name of national security. The recently de-classified decision, in which Judge Janice Rogers Brown denied a habeas corpus petition by a Guantanamo prisoner, compared the plaintiff’s case to the characters in The Wizard of Oz.

“Like Dorothy Gale upon awakening at home in Kansas after her fantastic journey to the Land of Oz, Latif’s current account of what transpired bears a striking resemblance to the familiar faces of his former narrative. See THE WIZARD OF OZ (MGM 1939). Just as the Gales’ farmhands were transformed by Dorothy’s imagination into the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion, it is at least plausible that Latif, when his liberty was at stake, transformed his jihadi recruiter into a charity worker, his Taliban commander into an imam, his comrades-in-arms into roommates, and his military training camp into a center for religious study.”

Dangerous stuff.

The current government’s relationship with literature remains a little Quixotic . Like this incident in 2010, when Government attorneys tried to censor Anthony Shaffer‘s Operation Dark Heart after it was already printed.

In all, it reminds me of my favourite court room scene in literature, from Alice in Wonderland.

“There’s more evidence to come yet, please your Majesty,” said the White Rabbit, jumping up in a great hurry; “this paper has just been picked up.”

“What’s in it?” said the Queen.

“I haven’t opened it yet,” said the White Rabbit, “but it seems to be a letter, written by the prisoner to-to somebody.”

“It must have been that,” said the King, “unless it was written to nobody, which isn’t usual, you know.”

“Who is it directed to?” said one of the jurymen.

“It isn’t directed at all,” said the White Rabbit; “in fact, there’s nothing written on the OUTSIDE.” He unfolded the paper as he spoke, and added “It isn’t a letter, after all: it’s a set of verses.”

“Are they in the prisoner’s handwriting?” asked another of they jurymen.

“No, they’re not,” said the White Rabbit, “and that’s the queerest thing about it.” (The jury all looked puzzled.)

“He must have imitated somebody else’s hand,” said the King. (The jury all brightened up again.)

“Please your Majesty,” said the Knave, “I didn’t write it, and they can’t prove I did: there’s no name signed at the end.”

“If you didn’t sign it,” said the King, “that only makes the matter worse. You MUST have meant some mischief, or else you’d have signed your name like an honest man.”

There was a general clapping of hands at this: it was the first really clever thing the King had said that day.

“That PROVES his guilt,” said the Queen.

“It proves nothing of the sort!” said Alice. “Why, you don’t even know what they’re about!”

“Read them,” said the King.

The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. “Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?” he asked.

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”. . .”

Ariel Bogle is a former publicist at Melville House.