Thursday, December 22, 2011

Book review: With Liberty and Justice for Some

In his book, With Liberty and Justice for Some, Glenn Greenwald blows hole in the myth that ours is a nation in which the rule of law is sacrosanct. From high crimes in the White House to fraud in the financial sector to our two-tiered justice system, the rule of law seems a quaint reminder of the long distant past.

Richard Nixon obstructed justice. Richard Nixon was part of a conspiracy to commit a felony. Richard Nixon should have faced not only impeachment, but indictment, for his acts while in the White House. But Gerald Ford didn't see it that way and pardoned the disgraced former president before the criminal (in)justice system could get its hands on him. Mr. Ford told the public that we needed to look forward rather than backward.

Just try telling that to a prosecutor or judge the next time you appear in court with your client accused of committing a crime (in the past). How far do you think that'll get you?

Oh, but the legacy of Gerald Ford lives on.

You remember the Iran-Contra affair, don't you? You remember how under Ronald Reagan a secret structure was erected that sold weapons to Iran and then took the proceeds and funnel them to the right-wing paramilitaries fighting the Sandanista government in Nicaragua? You remember that the Congress had outlawed the funding of the contras? You remember that little concept called checks and balances - where the President asks Congress for money and Congress decides how much to give and for what?

The scheme was patently illegal and Mr. Reagan was complicit. Yet what did George Bush (the elder) do once Reagan's underlings started getting indicted? That's right, he pardoned them. He shielded his former boss from the scrutiny of prosecutors.

Fast forward to the presidential campaign in 2008. Then-senator Barack Obama exclaimed that he would never immunize the giant telecoms for their role in carrying out President Bush's (the younger) illegal domestic spying plan. He also stated that those responsible for the gross violations of human rights carried out in the aftermath of 9/11 should be brought to justice. But, once the nomination was sewn up, Mr. Obama voted to immunize the telecoms; and, once ensconced in the Oval Office, Mr. Obama blocked any efforts by Congress or the Justice Department to investigate President Bush and his minions for torture and other violations of international law. Why? Because it was more important to look forward than backward.

The President of the United States has the duty to see that the laws of the nation are enforced. He also has an obligation to follow those laws. The idea is that no one, not even the president, is above the law. That's what the whole concept of the rule of law boils down to.

But, in these United States, if you sit in the Oval Office, if you run a major financial corporation or if you have money, power and influence, you are above the law. And that's the ultimate betrayal of the principles upon which this country was formed.

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