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More on 'Velvel v. Bush'

Our post here Monday on plans by Massachusetts School of Law dean Lawrence Velvel to convene a conference to prepare for the war crimes prosecutions of President Bush and other administration officials drew comments from several bloggers and a correction from the law school's spokesperson.

First, the correction. The initial announcement bore this headline: "Law School Calls Conference to Plan War Crimes Trials of Bush and Other Involved Administration Higher-ups." After we picked up on the story, MSL spokesperson Sherwood Ross sent an e-mail saying that although the conference is being held at MSL, that does not mean that the school is sponsoring the conference. "It is not," he writes. Also, Ross's initial statement said that one goal for the conference would be to set up "an umbrella coordinating committee with representatives of legal  groups concerned about the war crimes such as the Center for Constitutional  Rights, ACLU, National Lawyers Guild, among others." In his correction, he wrote, "Please delete the words National Lawyers Guild." Hmmm.

As for blogosphere reaction, here is a round-up:

  • At Above the Law, David Lat poked jabs at MSL dean Velvel, expressing surprise that a liberal such as he would espouse hangings, and at the school's students, suggesting that the school's unaccredited status may have a role to play: "If they can't find employment elsewhere, maybe they can go prosecute President Bush."
  • At The Volokh Conspiracy, Orin Kerr wonders whether the story is even real.
  • At Althouse, Ann Althouse notes that she has never heard of MSL, but says the conference isn't a terrible idea. "It's a little bit inflammatory, but if the issue of war crimes is taken seriously and presented in an appropriately legal fashion, what is so bad about it?"
  • At, Michael Krauss calls the news a disgrace to the law school and suggests the Secret Service should visit Velvel and provide "a legal lesson to the Dean about death threats against the President."
  • At Convictions, Phillip Carter relates the conference to the Supreme Court's grant of cert this week in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, a case involving top administration officials' legal accountability to detainees. "Somehow, I don't think this is what the Supreme Court had in mind when they granted cert," he writes.
  • At, Bainbridge describes it as the "unhinged loony left in action."

As I read through these reactions, I cannot help but wonder whether a worthy idea got lost in the message. Althouse is right: a substantive academic conference exploring whether the U.S. committed war crimes wouldn't be "so bad." In fact, it could be a step forward in bringing about a better public understanding of issues surrounding torture, detention and the military. The problem here is in the way it was presented, with the conference organizer sounding as if he is accuser, prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner. After the announcement, what's left for the conference?

Another downside to all this is the negative publicity it has given to a school that doesn't deserve it. When MSL opened its doors in 1988, I was the editor of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly and followed its launch closely. I've continued to keep a curious eye on it ever since. Despite -- or in spite of -- its accreditation battles with the ABA, MSL has established itself as a serious law school. Part of its appeal is that it requires no LSAT, meaning that its doors are open to some who would be less welcome elsewhere. Many of the MSL grads I've met went there as a second career. The school has an accomplished faculty and an adjunct faculty of judges and lawyers who are well regarded in New England. Many of its graduates have distinguished themselves.

I interviewed Velvel way back when MSL was getting started and have not spoken to him since, that I recall. The irony in all this is that, for all the controversy he creates -- and this is not his first time in the limelight -- without his hard work over the years, MSL probably wouldn't be where it is today.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on June 20, 2008 at 09:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)


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