Jameel Jaffer,
Director, Knight First Amendment Institute
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December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens had many rare qualities – he was contrarian, original, devastatingly brilliant, skeptical of almost everything – and I take pride in the fact that he was once an ACLU client. He was a plaintiff in our 2006 challenge to the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, a challenge that was sustained by the lower court but later dismissed on procedural grounds by a divided court of appeals.

In some ways he was a difficult client. In an early interview about our lawsuit, for example, he declared to the New York Sun that one of our other plaintiffs – a Muslim civil rights group – was “shady.” But he was viscerally offended by the wiretapping program and he was an enthusiast about the lawsuit. When we first approached him, he was writing what would eventually become a crucial piece about President Bush’s proposal to bomb al Jazeera’s headquarters in Doha. He seemed to be working around the clock, but despite his exhaustion he made time for endless questions from his lawyers at the ACLU. I once asked him whether he’d be able to talk by phone at either of two times. Yes, he said. “I shall be slumped at my desk both days.”

Hitchens later wrote a long article for Vanity Fair about why he’d joined the suit. The article manages to illuminate not just the suit but some of Hitchens’ obsessions as well.

In dreams begin responsibilities, and in wars begin the temptation for the rulers to arrogate extraordinary powers to themselves. Bush once appointed an attorney general, John Ashcroft, who knew so little about the Constitution that he announced that, in America, “we have no king but Jesus.” That moronic statement was exactly two words too long. . . .

The duty of the true republican is to resist the banana republic, and perhaps some bananas Republicans, and bananas Democrats, so that the Bill of Rights survives this war as it has survived previous ones.

RIP Hitch. If there’s a heaven after all, and if heaven has desks, I hope you’ve got a comfortable one to slump at.

PODCAST >> Listen to Christopher Hitchens discuss a ruling declaring the Bush spy program illegal.

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