Saturday, May 19, 2012

Glenn Greenwald: With Liberty and Justice for Some

Shop Indie Bookstores
Glenn Greenwald knows that we all know that the criminal justice system is broken, and that if you have money, it's a lot easier to get out of fines, avoid jail time, get lower sentences, etc. He knows that it's basically common knowledge that, while crack (more common in "urban" areas) and cocaine (a rich person's drug) are same/same, they carry sentences that are heavily weighted in the rich person's favor. "With Liberty and Justice for Some" argues that there's something Even Bigger, although Greenwald doesn't dispute that these more well known things are bad- they're bad.  What Greenwald explains is that the fundamental basis of the United States is the "rule of law": a law that is immune to inequality, universal, and nonnegotiable. Historically, inequality might be okay (well, would be okay), as long as it stemmed from the rule of law. Per Greenwald,
Adams and the other founders viewed the preeminence of law over individuals- all individuals- as the only protection against the tyranny that American colonists had launched a revolution to abolish. For that reason, American political liberty was always inextricably bound to the notion that law reigns supreme.
So what happened between then and now to make it so that political, financial and media elites became above the law? Why are the American people convinced that prosecuting and holding accountable certain offenders- presidents, corporate leaders, etc- would be too "disruptive, distracting, and unjust?" Since when do we buy this? One word: Nixon. (My take, not Greenwald's, but the book is longer than my post is going to be.) Or maybe two words: Presidential Pardon. When Nixon and his partners committed a whole bunch of pretty egregious crimes, everyone knew. And then Gerald Ford pardoned him and Nixon and his buddies were free from worry that they would be held to the same standards of law as everyone else. And so it started.

Some themes came up when Ford explained the pardon: He had to stop the "tragedy" that was Watergate, and start "looking forward." Nixon wouldn't actually "enjoy equal treatment" under the law- trying him in court would be excessively "cruel" (yes he really said that), expensive, long, and polarizing for the country. Oh, and it would hurt the credibility of the United States. (Note: Greenwald points out that both Nixon and Ford's actions would be cause for US condemnation in any other country.) Ford's conscience just wouldn't let him do anything else except pardon Nixon, i.e.: put him above the law.

And so it began. Note Obama's campaign promises to "restore the rule of law," and his seeming interest in bringing Bush et al to justice. As soon as he was elected, however, he took up Ford's vernacular while "blocking and suppressing all investigations of the Bush administration:" he wanted to look "forward as opposed to looking backwards," and wanted to make sure that people at the CIA (!!!) feel comfortable in their jobs. Really, the man wanted peace in the intelligence agency, or to put them above the law. The media backed Obama up on this: a Time magazine reporter worried that if Obama pursued investigations into torture, there might be a "rebellion in the clandestine service," since they might have had "to behave extra-legally for the greater good of the nation." So, you know, don't take the President's word for it: The CIA had to break the law, and it would be really wrong to take a look at that. (Actually, it wouldn't. Greenwald conveniently includes part of the Geneva Convention Against Torture, conveniently signed by Reagan, which says terrorism isn't a good enough reason for torture, nor is an order from your boss. Further, presidents can't decide not to investigate: "the United States is legally required to investigate allegations of torture," whether we shouldn't look backwards, whether the media is concerned, or whether it would break precednent or not. Stand up to Bush, dammit!)

Conveniently, this precedent (which is not unique to Ford and Obama), means that each President is free of investigation by his successor. Do the crime, not the time, it says, in a completely bi-partisan way. Suddenly our two-party system doesn't seem so democratic, just a way of slowing down government and spending lots of money every two years. And this is only the beginning: Greenwald convincingly (and disgustingly) implicates corporate bigwigs (no surprise) and media in this, as well. He lays out the revolving door between corporate CEOs/board members/lobbyists and government players, which is quite lawless, but don't worry, none of them will suffer a cruel day behind bars. That would be wrong. I'll leave the corporate and media stuff for this talk by Greenwald, but really, the book should get us doing something. It helps explain Occupy, a little, maybe, but more, it is an issue I think needs to be addressed by President Obama. The rule of law should come back, or he should lose our votes.