22 Sep 2006

Thanking America, Then and Now

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How Neal Katyal expresses his gratitude to the US:
Defending Osama bin Ladin’s driver, Salim Ahmed Hamdan

This month’s Yale Alumni Magazine interviews celebrity alumnus Georgetown Law Professor Neal K. Katyal, ’95JD Yale Law, preening over his victory in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, which challenged the authority of the President to consign illegal combatants to trial by military courts, and which elicited the absurd majority opinion, written by Justice Stevens, which erroneously applies the language of Article 3 of the Geneva Convention, viz.,

In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions (to):

1. Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause…

to illegal combatants and terrorists captured outside the territory of the United States.

Katyal shares with the Yale Alumni Magazine the heart-warming story of his moving reply to Hamdan, when the imprisoned jihadi asked: “Why do you want to help me?”

So I paused for a long time, and then I said that I was doing this because my parents came to America to give their children better opportunities, and I couldn’t imagine another country on earth in which I would be able to do what I have been able to do. My parents came here from India, literally with eight dollars in their pockets, each of them. And what bothered me the most about the president’s order is that it said only foreigners would get this military justice system. If you were an American citizen, then you got a civilian trial. But if you were a green-card holder or a foreigner, then you got something really inferior. That was the first time that I felt our country was so fundamentally on the wrong path — and I had to do something.

I can relate to Mr. Katyal’s strong feelings of gratitude and appreciation toward the United States, as I come from immigrant background myself. My grandparents arrived here from Lithuania in the 1890s.

Professor Katyal and my father have a lot in common. Both were of the first generation brought up and educated in the United States. Both were grateful for the opportunities offered by the United States, though my father was not so quite so fortunate as Professor Katyal, who attended Dartmouth and Yale Law School.

Because his own father was dying of miner’s asthma, my father had to quit school after 8th grade and go to work in the coal mines to help support the family. But he was still grateful to grow up in the United States, rather than in Russian-occupied Lithuania, grateful for both America’s political freedom and for her economic opportunities, even though he had much less access to the latter than some others.

Despite the things they have in common, still, I cannot help reflecting that my father’s gratitude toward this country expressed itself in forms distinctly different than Professor Katyal’s, forms more recognizable as gratitude. I feel sure that my father left America better off by his relatively obscure contributions, a lifetime of hard labor and wartime military service, when he died in 1997. If Professor Katyal passed away tomorrow, I’m afraid I would find it very difficult to say the same of his more celebrated ones.

I do agree with Professor Katyal on one thing, though. I too cannot “imagine another country on earth in which (he) would be able to do what (he) ha(s) been able to do.”


How my father expressed his gratitude to the US:
Serving in the Marine Corps in the South Pacific

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Rick Williams

Your comments mirror my beliefs- my father was with the 4Th on Saipan(the picture you have) and he too died in ’97



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