FACTivism: Saving Joe Gordon-Frank G. Anderson

June 1, 2012

As an American, perhaps the greatest right that I cherish is right there at the top of the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment enshrines so much in what America at least professes to hold dear. It provides what we thought was a bedrock for those of us at home who believe that our government governs us, not a foreign power. We went to war for that back in the 1700s, for the right to self-determination and the right to make our decisions, to make our own laws, to be our own people, and finally but most emphatically, to be free from foreign domination.

For decades it has become a matter of concern that our current Constitutional provisions for determining and conducting foreign policy (among several other issues) need to be reassessed and perhaps through an informed consensus, be reformed in a way that still permits our government to steer the overall course but “under advisement.” Just how this change can be introduced in Congress is a huge question. Americans can do more – to become more aware – that our foreign policy need not abandon commercial and strategic interests when justly used to protect human rights, but that it can be conducted in a parallel process to engage with all nations for mutual benefit.

As a former acting corporate adviser for the world’s largest oil company, I take advice seriously and don’t give it lightly. And as Thailand country representative for American Citizens Abroad, I find it incumbent to raise to a much higher level than exists at present concerns over the Joe Gordon case. Having attended multiple US Embassy-held seminars for volunteer US wardens in the country as well, it becomes even more important to communicate the inherent dangers of silence and acquiescence back to my government and to those who may, in future, have some impact on our great nation’s foreign policy and foreign affairs.

My concerns over the Joe Gordon case include:

1. Why is Thai law permitted by the United States to have jurisdiction over the rights of American persons inside the United Sates? Or alternatively, why is Thailand not being called to task for this interference? It has occurred in several instances. Why is Thailand (the government and the state) not being asked, as a comrade in arms, an ally, and trusted friend, to respect our laws in our own country as we are expected to respect Thai laws in Thailand? Thais are not held accountable when they visit the US for traffic infractions they commit in Thailand.

While Thailand intentionally wrote and enacted laws citing jurisdiction – globally, it is well past time when the US should make it plain that this type of intrusion into freedom of speech inside the United States, online or in any media there, against the United States Constitution and against American interests, is not the purview of Thailand to prosecute and persecute.

2. Polite silence and calm demeanor with Thai officials who are themselves creating international crimes and overstepping their authority is not the way to “respond.” Thais are more frazzled by loud noise, indignation, quid pro quo legal accusations and frequent follow up. Initially Thais will show negative resolve and anger to this kind of behavior, and are not unlikely to permanently feel that they are being treated impolitely. Yet, Burma and Cambodia, and Laos, all know indignation and noise-making works and find that it acts to their advantage.

3. Thais are resolute in their own way, especially toward the monarchy. In this, they are well prepared to allow angry mobs to breech the US Embassy fence over “the latest insult.” For some reason perhaps the State Department either does not recognize this potential for longer-term divestment of self-determination. Perhaps Washington does not see it for what it is – an intrinsic part of Thai culture. Or perhaps Uncle Sam knows it but, in balancing Joe Gordon’s case against US interests here vs. the overall issue of human rights, has determined that it is not worth it to correct Thailand’s current insistence that it has all the right in the world to monitor, investigate, interrogate, charge and when physically present in Thailand arrest, try and sentence anyone it wants to for lese majeste and defamation no matter where in the world the Thai-mandated autonomous crime takes place. To wit, under Thai law, no one in the world is save from Thailand’s reach. This, remember, is an ally.

In my forty six years experience with Thailand, I feel a great deal of sadness in Thailand’s unfortunate but perhaps inevitable (given historical realities) race Formula 1 stype in prosecuting lese majeste cases and mercilessly dealing with other forms of criminal defamation that more often than not is merely just criticism that hurt egos can’t tolerate. The great deal of harm done to the soul, spirit, honor, memory, social status and more by frivolous Thai charges and imprisonment has almost become legion.

In the meantime, Thailand continues to benefit from American funding, weapons sales and military cooperation.

As we saw in Vietnam, not a lot was achieved there until Buddhist monks began immolating themselves in public squares. Our support of a corrupt regime in a totally unnecessary war then – over and above Cold War realities – should be reminding us as we deal with one country to the next that our freedoms at home are much more easy to compromise that we realize. When our close allies have the power, right and will to undermine freedom at home and while they do so they remain assured that American money and support will not waiver as a result, we may be encouraging an old enemy – cowardice.

If our freedom at home means anything to us, as Americans, as a government, as a people, we have to make that plain and clear to foe and friend alike. In summary, then, for the United States to allow Joe Gordon to remain in prison is unkind and a poor choice. His plight should be eased with the same influence that brought Washington to Bangkok nearly two hundred years ago.


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