Economic and political analysis-Window on culture-Media criticism

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

More Power for the Powerful: Subverting Justice and Abusing Authority

Dangerous Precedent

I've followed the Plame case in some details, choosing to cover the political and legal ramifications of the case rather than the investigation of the outing or the trial of one participant in the outing, Scooter Libby.

The greatest damage caused by the Plame outing is not to our national security, although I'm sure the outing decimated morale among our secret agents, who must fear what their spouses or loved one might do to upset the political incumbents.
This in itself would do sufficient damage. Yet far more destructive is the damage to our system of justice.

In short, the Plame outing showed that the Executive branch could do as it pleases. The system of checks and balances succumbed to the unbridled assumption of full control and zero accountability for executive actions. The White House could police itself, through a subordinate body called the Department of Justice.

Plame was a gateway into a unprecendented abuse of power that continues to stretch the definition of presidential authority, and deny the primacy of international law and treaty. In turn our legal system has been converted into yet another tool of executive authority, its prosecutors and judges appointed for their past service to political causes rather than for their ability to enforce and adjudicate the law.

US District Attorneys were fired not for legitimate reasons but for their unwillingness to pursue partisan prosecutions. One prosecutor in Washington state was fired for failing to investigate the results of a very narrow gubertorial race which saw a Democrat win. Another ignored pleas from bosses in Washington to pursue allegation of voter fraud in New Mexico. Caroline Lam in San Diego was fired after having successfully prosecuted prominent Congressman "Duke" Cunningham for receiving millions from contractors.

The termination of federal prosecutors for likely partisan reasons is just one part of a much larger deterioriation of legal authority at the federal level. And how we now see the impact of a White House gone wild!

AG Gonzales faces impeachment for lying to Congress; he, like Libby, is clearly a fall guy meant to take Congressional pressure off ethical transgression by his superiors. Former White House counsel Myers and a White House staffer refused to obey Congressional subpeonas. Monice Goodling took the fifth. In short, we have a Department of Justice and legal apparatus directly defying the rule of law, under the pretext that any activity by the Executive is beyond legal accountability or any public transparency.

Like some two-bit banana republic, our nation is ruled not by laws but by whoever is in power. Their control is beyond contesting; the president can do no wrong and by proxy neither can his minions.

Responsibility is only meaningful if there's accountability for how things are being run. Much is at stake. If leadership fails in the White House, our nation fails, too. If the DoJ fails to prosecute criminals, or prosecutes selectively, we in fact imperil our entire legal system.

Dual legal standards is nothing new in this country--the rich receive justice in a different form than the poor. Neither is corruption or graft new. What is amazing is the impunity with which the White House flaunts the law.

Flagrant legal misbehaviors began with the lead-up to the Iraq war, where intelligence was cherry-picked or fabricated (the Niger document) to build a case for war. I heard it said that international law was the real target of the Iraqi invasion.

Recap on Federal District Judge Bates

Bates dismissed against a lawsuit filed against Plame and her husband. I revisited the democrats.com link, in particular the comments by Roha.

Bates is undoubtedly an activist judge on the right. Activist judges are typically defined as jurists who sacrifice objectivity in the law for the sake of a narrow partisan agenda.

Bates was Deputy Independent Counsel for the Whitewater investigation.
If this weren't evidence of his loyalties, Bates has proven to be a Bush administration loyalist in all he does.

Objectivity hardly appears to be a qualification for federal judgeship, an appointment which is meant to be lifelong and thereby apolitical.

Activist judges have been much maligned by the Right, but anyone could see Bates is the product of the Republican establishment.

Bates and Big Oil

Bates protected Cheney against a General Accounting Office lawsuit into Cheney's 2001 secret energy task force meetings. Ruha posts on democrats.com:

[Bates]...threw out a case in 2002 regarding the release of Cheney's 2001 Energy Taskforce records in Walker v. Cheney, ruling that a congressional agency, the General Accounting Office, has “no standing to obtain a court order compelling disclosure of information concerning meetings of the energy task force chaired by the Vice-President.”

I've brought up the fact that maps of Iraqi oil fields were brought before that group.
The real issue is not that Iraq targetted for its oil, but rather the timing of the salivations and scheming over the Iraqis' oil.

Like Afghanistan, an examination of the motives for invasion will undoubtedly reveal energy reserves as a likely target or potential benefit. Afghanistan had a large natural gas pipeline; the Taliban had granted rights to an Argentine company in the late 1990's over a consortium including Conoco Phillips. It may not be a coincidence that Osama Bin Laden ended up in Afghanistan; circumstantially he gave the US a perfect rationale for seizing the pipeline once 9/11 happened.

If energy colonialism is the chief motive for our post-9/11 wars, Iraq and Afghanistan were the choicest targets with the weakest governments and capacity to defend themselves--at least conventionally. Regime change in Iraq and Afghanistan appeared to serve energy conglomerates who supply America's ever-growing needs; ongoing security problems have delayed the fruits of our military intervention.

A prowar contingent--beneficiaries and proponents of Big Oil or the mil-ind complex--clings stubbornly to the possibility of victory. Does their faith in eventual victory emerge from greed over Iraqi oil and presumption of American military superiority? Or does the continuation of a war represent "victory" in itself, for war supporters who profit directly from war contracts, like the Halliburton-owning Vice President?

The initial acronym for the invasion was Operation Iraq Liberation--O.I..L.. I've said that oil is the primary motive for continuation of the occupation. The difficulties of sustaining extraction while facing an insurgency bent on denying exploitation of Iraq's oil reserves make the practical "benefit" of colonizing Iraqi oil far less practical.

This isn't to say the architects of the war weren't capable of dreaming up an Iraq which would willingly part with its oil. I believe it was Richard Perle who claimed oil would pay for the war. These people also bought into existence the fabrication that we'd be welcomed with open arms. Maybe they'd begun to believe their own propaganda--it was certainly an easier path to take than to presume the worst, which could undermine the justifications for war which they'd been parroting to the media for months.

Delusion and denial are particularly dangerous in the field of military intelligence and planning yet they comfort politicians, who like black and white, a slam dunk no-brainer popular with the majority. The presumption of American military superiority, almost divinely granted, fits well with the propaganda of war-making; it's well suited to the core Christian fundamentalist value set at the heart of the Republican political nexus.

Accepting even the slightest possiblity of failure was incompatible with total conviction in the presumption of victory, a subject I discussed early in this blog's lifespan. Lost in the trumpets of war was the quiet voice of caution, leading America to the place she now finds herself, stuck in an open-ended and unpopular war. As our our global credibility sinks, we risk demotion to paper tiger status as our military effort to defend a corrupt proxy regime in Iraq falters under insufficient manpower, poor planning, and internecine rivalries.

Bates and Eavesdropping

According to Ruha on democrats.com, Bates "...was named in March 2006 to a secret court – the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) set up to oversee domestic spying shortly after reports surfaced in the news about the Bush administration circumventing the court to eavesdrop on American citizens."

If you remember the FISA case, you might recall that Bush demanded the Congress rewrite the law which had been set up to prevent domestic spying. Rhetorically, Bush claimed that he needed more leeway in tracking terrorists. He'd been late to acknowledge the program's existence; offered retroactively, his justifications were suspicious in their timing and lack of oversight.

The big question with FISA is why bother to circumvent the court if so few warrants (2% maybe) were being denied? Such a low rejection rate would hardly justify placing an Administration loyalist in the position of judge.

One complaint from Bush over FISA was the amount of paperwork needed. And another blurring factor is the reality that international cell phone traffic passes into and out of the US as its processed. The NSA could spy on calls originating and terminating outside the US, such was the thrust of FISA, but were outbound international calls from Americans subject to warrantless invasions of privacy?

The sheer volume, frequency, and spontaneity of international calls has blurred the lines of FISA capabilities predicated on mid 70s technology--in particular the speed with which warrants could be issued. Had this "New Age" justification been stronger, it would have surely been offered up as reason to make changes in FISA law transparently rather than covertly pursued. A FISA judge does apparently stand by, sequestered 24/7/365 for the purpose of ruling on warrants.

A more likely reason to circumvent FISA was the fact the Bush Administration was spying on people it shouldn't, Americans with no links to terrorism communicating with other Americans. Surveillance is a big part of increasing the power of the State, and no president can be presumed to ignore the benefits of spying on its enemies, foreign and domestic. 9/11 and the terror threat provided opportunity and a public stage for selling Iraq and the Global War on Terror and yielded an unprecedent opportunity to expand the power of the Presidency.

On the surface, beefed-up eavesdropping was offered as a vital tool in the war against terror. Non-terrorists had nothing to fear, presumably. Little was said of breaking FISA or circumventing the Court.

The mainstream media complied with little scrutiny beyond the initial acknowledgement that the US government had an extralegal eavesdropping program in place since 9/11. Recently, Huffington Post claimed the existence of additional surveillance programs based on a comment made by AG Gonzales in which he stated that existence of programS instead of a program.

Bates and Foreign Charities

Best be careful over whom you give your money to in the new America. Charities can after all be fronts for terrorist organizations. And in the security environment we find ourselves, suspicion is sufficient evidence for a presumption of guilt, the legal foundation around which un-Constitutional search and seizure revolves. (Much of the rationalization for State invasions of privacy emerged out of the War on Drugs. In both cases, the threat of drugs or terror justifies the arbitrary use of State power.)

One such example of heavy-handedness is the treatment of anti-Bush groups, the real targets of a broader campaign meant to limit hard-core dissent and social activism. Rightwing political target Michael Moore faces a federal investigation for his trip to Cuba under a similar refrain that demands compliance through the ever-widening grasp of Bush's Big State federal tentacles.

According to Ruha, Bates "in August, 2005 ruled against Voices in the Wilderness, a Chicago-based humanitarian aid group seeking an end to the war In Iraq as well as and sanctions against Iraq. Ruling in favor of the Treasury Department’s imposition of a fine imposed for transporting 'medicine and toys' to Iraq 'absent specific license or other authorization.'"

Ruha goes on to cites Z-net reporter David Smith-Ferri, who said of the ruling:
“We now live in a society where the law of the land asserts that delivering aspirin and antibiotics to a pediatrics ward where children are dying from diarrhea is a criminal offense. Likewise handing a plastic harmonica to a child suffering from leukemia. And there are federal judges who will bring the gavel down and sign on the dotted line.”

An Executive order was recently signed by Bush which gives the federal government the right to seize the assets of anyone involved in “undermining efforts to promote economic reconstruction and political reform in Iraq or to provide humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people.”

When I first saw the order, I thought it rather odd, yet I wasn't too concerned as it seemed to only affect those who directly participate in terror attacks in Iraq. Yet a second and deeper clause expands the retributive capacity of our government to anyone who indirectly supported the attack, knowingly or not. I had seen a similar clause in the Patriot Act, one which expanded the definition of terrorism to include those who provided material support to the cause, knowingly or not.

In part due to their 'legalese', the full connotations of Executive Order hadn't become clear to me until reading the Ruha post. Ruha explains the fuller truth:
"Thus, if any antiwar group is viewed to dissent from official U.S. policy by offering even humanitarian aid to those Bush declares to be enemy combatants or terrorists, he or she and their organization’s property and assets will now be “blocked and may not be transferred, paid, exported, withdrawn, or otherwise dealt in.” Indeed, under the terms of Herr Bush’s latest declaration, anyone seeking to come to the defense of anyone whose property and assets have been frozen, will likewise be regarded as aiding the enemy and suffer the same fate.

A TPMMuckraker article by Spencer Ackerman cites "Bruce Fein, a Justice Department official in the Reagan administration":
"This is so sweeping it's staggering. I've never seen anything so broad that it expands beyond terrorism, beyond seeking to use violence or the threat of violence to cower or intimidate a population. This covers stabilization in Iraq. I suppose you could issue an executive order about stabilization in Afghanistan as well. And it goes beyond even attempting violence, to cover those who pose 'a significant risk' of violence. Suppose Congress passed a law saying you've committed a crime if there's significant risk that you might commit a crime."

In itself, the Order might not be cause for alarm. In context, the new decree shows the full flowering of an executive branch that has made irrelevant our laws and legal precedents, that has sacrificed our liberty for the illusion of security.

Analysis by Michel Chossudovsky is here.

A string of secret Executive Orders may lie dormant, waiting for some event like a terrorist strike to come alive, like some Frankenstein dancing on the strings of a State grown mad with its own power, and completely out of control, looking at its citizens as its subjects--tools to be used or threats to be controlled.

Without constraints on the Executive, the State will only grow larger as it represents a tool of political expediency for those in power. Left or right, conservative or liberal, the leaders in power wield the power of the State for their own purposes.

Warning For All

While Michael Moore and Voices in the Wilderness--now defunct in part due to the federal pressures put on it during its battle with the Feds--are today' s target, perhaps tomorrow it will be the American Enterprise Institute and Exxon Mobil.

As political winds blow and change, so too do the enemies of the day. Even as governments change, the power of the State is allowed to persist because it serves the interest of those in power, left or right. One day the State might grow powerful enough to simply discard any vestiges of our political process, like the computer system in Terminator 3, which chose to launch a nuclear war after becoming "self-aware" that it no longer needed humans.

Our liberties are not meant to be defended when taking such a stand is popular! It's vital to our democracy that people with unpopular opinions be allowed to speak out, and not in some "free speech zone" cordoned off the periphery of media and political discourse. We see from the narrow, corporate-driven agenda of the mainstream media what really happens when dissent is suppressed and government press releases are regurgitated as news squeezed between celebrity gossip and infotainment.

If we don't make a stand to protect our Constitutional rights now, it won't matter what side of the political divide you stand on, now or in the future. Might will make right. So in the sense I'm a liberal, I'd implore all non-liberals to protect my universal rights of viewpoint, privacy, and property free of seizure. Profoundly patriotic was the person who said that they might not agree with my point of view, but would die to protect my right to say it.

Elections every four years are our system's method for limiting executive authority. The framers likely thought that restricting the time in office would limit the president's power and dampen the corrupting spread of influence that absolute power inevitably brings. Yet private voting machine companies hold our elections hostage to unresolved irregularities. Wide-scale disenfranchisement in Ohio wasn't investigated because the "winning" party had no reason to bring its legitimacy into question.

If one law can be circumvented, why not others? If one Constitutional amendment can be weakened, why not more? After all, what benefit does empowering the little people bring to the elite and corporations taking control? If the current trend continues, no law will be allowed to remain if it doesn't serve the State or the Corporate corollary.

Those with power will use it to accumulate even more; those with authority over the justice system will use it to serve narrow, short-term political objectives. It is perhaps the future Bushes that we must be most worried about, those who've learned from Bush example how to justify all conduct based on the need to protect the American people...

Where are the lawyers when you need them? One would think those in the legal profession would be terrified of becoming simple administrators of the law, political appendages of the State who serve the interests of government first and the people second.

Well, I wouldn't expect the little people to go quietly into the night, even if kissing the royal pinky ring becomes customary procedure among the servants of the rich and powerful, those who might bear the proverbial mark of the beast.

I don't anticipate the middle class to be increasingly empowered legally or economically. The middle class is after all the group from which revolutions typically spring and in this sense represents a clear and present danger to the continued amalgamation of legal power and wealth in the hands of the ruling class and their corporate patrons.



Post a Comment

<< Home