James Pirtle is a trial lawyer and owner of The Sentinel Law Group, PLLC, a Seattle law firm and he is an attorney on the ground for Legal Advocacy Worldwide (LAW), a non-profit devoted to financing direct legal advocacy on behalf of the oppressed abroad, including the state-sanctioned persecution of the LGBT community in Africa. This blog chronicles how his involvement in the defense of Thomas Kwoyelo, a former child soldier in the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda, developed into a broad international human rights practice with crusading Ugandan attorney John Francis Onyango. This blog begins with their involvement in the Kwoyelo case and continues with updates and developments in the human rights cases. Read from the bottom up to see how it all unfolds.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Post 5: Darkness

Days 2 and 3:

It has been three days and already things are blurring together. I know I am tired. I haven't figured out the sleep thing yet. Today is the first day I haven't slept for several hours during the middle of the day then been bollocksed at night. I plan on getting to bed shortly as tomorrow is another full day.

Yesterday was day two. I am up early again and downstairs for the yummy breakfast. Back to the room and into my tasks. I haven't heard from my people so I decide to head out and try to find someplace to get cash. Though I have seen them everywhere, I did not realize how ubiquitous the heavily armed police are. They race up and down the street in packed pick up trucks and finger their machine guns on virtually every corner. There are dozens of them in every park. It's not hard to figure out what this is about. It's a tough time to be a dictator in Africa. Musevini, like any proper dictator, has no intention of loosening his grips on power. Arab Spring woke up most of this continent, but the fledgling protests in Uganda were brutally supressed. Now the police are everywhere lest anyone else think they have a good idea. Jackie says that the Ugandans are meek. Francis takes Umbrage with that characterization. He says that this country is simply sick to death of war.

I brought my camera with me and thought that I took some really good pictures. I happened upon a monstrous turkey-like bird with a long beek. I took some pictures of Musevini's "campaign" ads. I also took some sneaky pictures of the police, but it turns out I left the memory card in my computer, so I did not take any pictures at all. I walked by what I am sure was a dead body but I did not stop to check. I was also unable to find the Citibank, so I return feeling down. It appears that I take frequent breaks from my work and I realize that this material is getting to me. What I am working on is not abstract. Francis calls, tells me he is busy, but we will get together later in the afternoon or evening. I decide to nap.

Four hours later and it is 9:00. My phone hasn't rung. All the better, I think, because I am not feeling sociable and a torrential thunder storm has moved in. The storm cools everything down and the thunder and lightning remind me of Arizona. I think I am homesick. I opened the windows to listen to the storm and let the wind blow my drapes into the room. Some time later I decided I was not going to stay in afterall so I went out to a bar where I heard music through the storm. I ate salad, drank a Nile Special, and made some friends.

It's late when I get back and I'm not tired. Thankfully I can chat with my people back home. Around 4 I am ready for bed. At 6 I am having a malaria pill induced vivid dream about the grim reaper reaching for my feet. I woke up shouting, "Fuck you, Reaper!" while kicking the foot of the bed. Now I am awake again and my foot is bummed.

That's fine. I have work to do. Today the breakfast wasn't as good. Maybe the guild is off the lilly. Maybe I'm just tired. Back to the room and working on the torture issues. At 11 I want to go to bed but Francis calls. He'll be here in 10 minutes. Time to go through the witness statements. I have selected the 2 of 70+ that I find the most troubling for our case. Francis agrees. We go over them and over them again. I'm feeling ill. The detailed descriptions of human beings' brutal end is taking a toll on me.

Next we are off to the Human Rights Commission to discuss our issues with the head of the legal department. Most of the discussion entails what constitutes torture (another argument I am sick of) and the attorney thinks that some of our strategy (which I am not at liberty to discuss) may undermine some of the work she is trying to do. She is not going to help us. How can we not be on the same team? (Note: What she is trying to do is untenable and left me frustrated).

Back into the street (which is a perpetual game of Frogger--dodging motorcycles, cars, buses, open manholes). I won Francis's respect by racing across the street at a particularly perilous moment. He gave me accolades. I shrugged. The truth is that I forgot momentarily that they are driving on the wrong side of the road. Nevertheless, he admires my ballsiness. Within moments, however, I stepped on (into) what I think (thought) was a rock, to avoid a woman with a big basket on her head, but it was actually a pile of wet cement. Sorry, fancy shoes.

Positive note, Francis is savvy enough to know where to take me so I can get some cash. That problem is now solved.

Back to the room and more discussions about torture. Francis receives a call and informs me we are taking a taxi to the African Centre for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims.

I think it is worse being in one of these vehicles than actually walking. Best not to look.

We arrived to meet with the CEO of ACTV and discuss at length the physical and psychological impact of torture on victims. Keep in mind that we are woking on issues surrounding Kwoyelo's torture while in custody (and during interrogations) and the court's seeming unwillingness to consider this a factor in the trial. This meeting is productive and we are lucky enough to leave with substantive literature we can submit with our briefing.

The success of this meeting has lifted my spirits some and we get a ride back to the hotel. Francis wants to catch up on news and I turned on BBC to discover live coverage of the bombing of the UN in Nigeria. Francis is crestfallen. I go to the bar and get us some beers. I have been here for three days and the sadness of this continent is getting to me. He has been here his entire life.

Maybe food will help. We took a very long walk to an Indian restaurant Francis likes. I'm nervous but don't object. My bowels have been fine up to this point. It was quite good. We'll see.

Francis asks if I want to go out elsewhere but I am sensing he wants to be home with his family. I tell him I am tired, which is true, and since we have a long day tomorrow, I'm going to call it. He seems relieved.

Tomorrow may be the last time we have all of the attorneys together prior to the trial so there is a lot do. We need to have the affidavit prepared for Kwoyelo when we meet with him in prison on Monday.

Signing off with designs on long sleep and reaper free dreams.