Lawyers Journal

Speaking truth to power

Lawyer John Adams was a descendant of zealously religious Puritans who fled England in order "to establish a refuge for godliness, a city upon a hill."1 Adams reportedly looked upon his ancestors as "bearers of freedom" and the cause of freedom as having a "holy urgency."2 Adams taught us that "fear is the foundation of most governments"3 and that "liberty cannot be preserved without general knowledge among the people."

With common knowledge of the truth about their circumstances, the people would overcome fear of a hostile government. Adams wrote: "The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments, of their duties and obligations … This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people was the real … Revolution."4

In the Middle East today, the ubiquitous "revolution" began in the hearts and minds of these predominantly religious people as their views, sentiments and affections melded together in search of freedom and equity. Long-serving despots in the Middle East, fairly described as "country owners," literally converted to their own account the natural resources and finances of the state. Their citizens were reduced to subservience, living day to day without safety, security or predictability in their personal and commercial dealings.

Safety, security and predictability are, of course, the hallmarks of the rule of law. These country owners make their populations cower through fear and brutality and hold on to power by keeping them ignorant of the truth. But, modern technology in the form of handheld cellular telephones, Internet connectivity and social networks brought truth to ordinary citizens, opening the floodgates of knowledge. While Adams might credit Facebook and Twitter with facilitating the distribution of knowledge, he would also hold up the lawyers of the Middle Eastern countries as soldiers of freedom.

Lawyers armed only with conviction in the righteousness of their cause for individual rights and justice placed themselves in harm's way in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Bahrain. The images coming from the Middle East speak volumes about the courage of our professional colleagues.

On Feb. 11, 2011, lawyers dressed in their formal black robes marched on Cairo's Presidential Abdeen Palace to "symbolically cordon the president" according to lawyer Mostafa Hamdy.5 Lawyer Abdel-Qawy Ashmawy told the Daily News Egypt that he protested because he wanted "a state of law and constitution." Ashmawy complained that the government "ignored the orders and verdicts of the Supreme Administrative Court and the Supreme Constitutional Court regarding elections."6

In Libya, the protests began when government agents arrested Fathi Terbil, a human-rights lawyer, outside the Benghazi courthouse on Feb.15, 2011. The top floor of that same courthouse later became the center of the opposition movement. Indeed, when freed, Terbil operated a live, online stream he called Free Libya Radio from the roof of the courthouse.

In Tripoli, some 200 lawyers and judges staged a sit-in at the courthouse, surrounded by armed security forces. Libya's justice minister resigned in protest over the use of excessive force against demonstrators. And lawyer Amal Bagaigis told the Guardian: "We started just as lawyers looking for our rights and now we are revolutionaries. And we don't know how to manage. We want to have our own face. For 42 years we have this kind of barbarism. We now want to live."7

Adams, relying on religious tenets, spoke to the principle of just insurrection.8 Lawyers in the Middle East, also relying on their religious beliefs, likely would agree.

Here, in lawyer Adams' commonwealth, we admire our colleagues in the Middle East for their courage to speak truth to power and for their demand for freedom and the rule of law.

Richard P. Campbell is president-elect of the Massachusetts Bar Association and founder and chairman of Campbell, Campbell, Edwards & Conroy PC.

1R. Brookhiser, America's First Dynasty. The Adamses, 1735-1918. The Free Press, 2002, p.13

2Id., at 13.

3John Adams, Thoughts on Government, 1776.

4John Adams, Letter to H. Niles, February 13, 1818.




8Citing to Rev. Jonathan Mayhew, A Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission And Non-Resistance To The Higher Powers, Jan. 30, 1750.

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