Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Star Chamber

The Star Chamber: Shedding light on today
Jerry MazzaOnline Journal Wednesday December 12, 2007
The Star Chamber is not a futuristic sci-fi chiller. Quite au contraire, as Wikipedia reports, “The first mention of it in England (Sterred chamber) was in 1398. The Star Chamber (Latin Camera stellata) was an English court of law at the royal Palace of Westminster that sat between 1487 and 1641, when the court itself was abolished. Its primary purpose was to hear political libel and treason cases.” Sound like something from today’s news? It is.
Wikipedia tells us, “In modern usage, legal or administrative bodies with strict, arbitrary rulings and secretive proceedings are sometimes called, metaphorically or poetically, star chambers. This is a pejorative term and intended to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the proceedings. The inherent lack of objectivity of any politically motivated charges has led to substantial reforms in English law in most jurisdictions since that time.”
Might we call the DoD creation, Guantanamo, a form of Star Chamber? And is the White House acting like a Star Chamber, selecting recipients for rendition in secret meetings? Can the Justice Department be operating like a Star Chamber in the illegal firings of US attorneys? Is the NSA using Star Chamber tactics to secretly wiretap and gather information for arrests and prosecution?
The name itself, “Star Chamber,” came literally from the edifice built in the reign of King Edward II, specifically for the King’s Privy Council, that is, from the stars painted into the navy blue ceiling. Perhaps its creators sought some heavenly blessing in so doing. Unfortunately, the heavenly ceiling was brought down metaphorically on Charles I's head 154 years later; the actual physical building was demolished in 1806. Yet that’s a decent run for the dread it turned out to be. Let’s hope this era doesn’t last that long.
The court grew from meetings of the King’s Privy Council and bore a second tribunal separate from the council. At first it was hailed for its speed and flexibility, made up of privy counselors and common law judges who supplemented the actions of common law and equity courts in civil and criminal matters. The court supervised and oversaw lower courts, and members could hear direct appeal cases as well.
Ironically, the court was created in a way to insure fair enforcement of laws against prominent people, so powerful that ordinary courts could never convict them of their crimes, for instance, like a Cheney, Bush, or Rumsfeld & Company, for everything from 9/11’s lapses of security to the mentioned being the actual perpetrators; and for their illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the gagging of FBI whistleblowers Sibel Edmonds and Coleen Rowley.
Unfortunately, the Court of Star Chamber came to act also as a court of criminal equity, that is imposing punishment for “actions deemed to be morally reprehensible but not against the letter of the law.” Today those might be gay marriage, abortion or even teaching evolution, deemed by some to be “morally reprehensible.”
Unfortunately, the Star Chamber developed the power to punish “offenders” for any action the court “felt” should be illegal, even when it was “technically legal.” Just as our own government has come to stomp on constitutional rights, notably First Amendment rights, which provide for freedom of speech and the right to criticize the government, not just to bow down and kowtow to it. In fact, the Star Chamber had soon allowed justice to be stretched to completely arbitrary and subjective applications, as today we see the USAPATRIOT Act, or the suspension of Habeas Corpus, stretching the Constitution and our human rights to the breaking point.
Additionally, many crimes now commonly prosecuted as conspiracy, libel, and perjury were conceived in the Court of Star Chamber, along with its everyday role of dealing with riots and sedition. Notably, Star Chamber sessions were closed to the public, like today’s military trials, enemy combatant hearings, decisions for extended detention, or rendition to torture-practicing nations. Everything is done in secret, gone black-ops.
Again back in jolly old England, under the leadership of Cardinal Wolsey (Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor, 1515-1530) and Thomas Cranmer (Archbishop of Canterbury, 1533-1556), the Court of Star Chamber morphed into a political weapon aimed at firing actions against opponents to the policies of King Henry VIII, and his ministers and Parliament. Henry, Wolsey and Cranmer invited plaintiffs to bypass lowers courts completely and bring their cases straight to the Star Chamber.
In some way, this reminds me of the Victim’s Compensation Fund, passing money to 9/11 victims’ families with the proviso that they could not sue the government or the airlines once they took the hush cash. The fund became a tool to bypass court trails that could take the government and airlines to task and to reveal the complete truth of what happened on 9/11. In effect the hush money gags victims’ families and subverts their constitutional right to sue.
The Star Chamber was also used frequently to reign in Wales after the Acts of Union of 1538-43. For example, Tudor gentry in Wales used the chamber to evict Welsh landowners and protect themselves -- and in general under those “Acts,” to shield English advantages. Once again, court sessions were held in secret, and offered no indictments, or right to appeal; no juries and no witnesses. Evidence was simply presented in writing. How much does this resemble the right of eminent domain which is eminently and secretly used these days to covet property by government and developers for mutual exploitation and profit?
Also, do we not see secret juries with no lawyers permitted in “Judiciary Reviews,” in colleges, churches, corporations, government agencies? These “Judiciary Reviews” are used in fact as Kangaroo courts to railroad their victims into oblivion and get the “desired results” the institutions are looking for. Are not the roots of most everything wrong that we see in our judicial system, including its lack of effectiveness with private and government criminality, the same as can be seen in the history of the Star Chamber?
Under Stuart and Bush
In fact, Star Chamber power grew in leaps and bounds under the House of Stuart. By the time of King Charles I, Star Chamber stood for the misuse and abuse of power. King James I and son Charles, used the court to look at cases of sedition and to put down opposition to royal policies. Is not the USAPATRIOT Act to suppress criticism and thereby block constitutionally granted rights in the government’s search for “terrorists?” It creates sedition from the legitimate, sanctioned rights to protest and inquire. But then our own King George invokes his divine right to do all this. Right now, writing this, I may be seditious?
The Star Chamber was also used to try nobles too powerful to be brought to trial in lower courts, including King Henry VIII. King Charles I had the chutzpah to substitute the Star Chamber for Parliament through 11 years of “Personal Rule.” Is that next for us? Via the Star Chamber, King Charles persecuted dissenters, including our own Puritans who sailed away to New England. And to what end will they have sailed if “Personal Rule” rides again with the new Emergency Powers Act, and we have King George for X more years.
Looking back, we see the Star Chamber offenses building towards a climax, again resonating for our times. For instance, the Star Chamber banned all “news books” (their equivalent of newspapers, magazines, and topical books) because Spanish and Austrian diplomats complained that coverage of the Thirty Years’ War in England was unfair. Consequently, “newsbooks” about this matter began to be printed in Amsterdam and smuggled into the country. The ban of information was lifted six years later.
Bush and Company took everyday media suppression a step further by creating their own news segments for television and making their distribution accessible by stations all over the country via direct links to the Pentagon. For all practical purposes a viewer might think he was looking at the station’s reporter in Iraq or Afghanistan giving an objective presentation of what was happening. In fact, it was all scripted, produced on location and delivered (for free) to any stations that would run it. After protests from critics and Congress, this process was curtailed and such footage had to bear “supers” that labeled from whom the footage came.
Climax and downfall of the Star Chamber
In 1641, the Long Parliament, headed by John Pym and angered by the wretched treatment of John Lilburne, and including religious dissenters, William Prynne, Alexander Leighton, John Bastwick, Henry Burton, rose up to abolish the Star Chamber with a sweeping Act of Parliament. The physical Star Chamber itself stood until its demolition in 1806, though its materials were salvaged. Its door now hangs nearby in the Westminster School.
Fortunately, the excesses of the Star Chamber under Charles I, including John Lilburne’s case, sparked the overthrow and eventual execution of King Charles. So there is hope that the human political animal wakes up every now and then to clean the evils from his government’s house. In fact, Wikipedia quotes the early 1900s American poet, biographer and dramatist Edgar Lee Masters (1969-1950):
In the Star Chamber the council could inflict any punishment short of death, and frequently sentenced objects of its wrath to the pillory, to whipping and to the cutting off of ears. . . . With each embarrassment to arbitrary power the Star Chamber became emboldened to undertake further usurpation. . . . The Star Chamber finally summoned juries before it for verdicts disagreeable to the government, and fined and imprisoned them. It spread terrorism among those who were called to do constitutional acts. It imposed ruinous fines. It became the chief defense of Charles against assaults upon those usurpations which cost him his life. . . .
One would hope the recollection of this dramatic piece of English history provides a teaching example to those in power, especially since many of the principles of our so-called democracy originated in England as well as nearby France. If the lesson is ignored, consequences follow like the chapters of history.
In fact, all actions, the laws of physics tell us, create reactions in kind. And right action ultimately is the human keel that rights the ship of state. So the journey towards human liberation never stops. It can only be stalled. Woe to those who block the path to justice and freedom; those who do not learn the lessons of history are doomed to live them over and over again. This includes those too who remain asleep to the excesses of the present regime and its world-manipulating shadow government, the Bilderbergers, named after their first annual meeting place in 1954, the Bilderberg Hotel in Oosterbeek, The Netherlands, the ultimate Star Chamber.

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