The "culture of impunity" -- in Iraq and Kenya

Three separate articles from today's Post highlight the immunity enjoyed by political elites.

Published September 12, 2009 12:13PM (EDT)

New York Times, August 5, 2009:

Kenya’s judicial system, however, has done little to pursue suspects in the post-election violence and is often accused of perpetuating the nation’s culture of impunity.

New York Times, May 5, 2009:

Iraq’s culture of impunity on corruption was illustrated last week when commission officials, accompanied by Iraqi soldiers, went to the Trade Ministry -- itself far from the most-accused ministry on the commission’s list -- to arrest nine people, including two of the minister’s brothers. . . . That unit retreated after arresting only one of the people who were wanted, the minister’s spokesman.

Washington Post, today:

A federal appeals court rejected a lawsuit Friday against CACI International that accused the firm's employees of taking part in the torture and abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

In a 2 to 1 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dismissed the case on the grounds that CACI should be immune from prosecution because the company's employees were under U.S. military authority. . . .

The decision reversed a lower court's ruling in March that the company must face a lawsuit filed by former detainees who claim that they were tortured at the detention center near Baghdad. . . .

"The plaintiffs in these cases allege that they were beaten, electrocuted, raped, subjected to attacks by dogs and otherwise abused by private contractors," [Judge Merrick Garland] wrote. . . .

"The court's decision today is an important step toward resolving all legal matters regarding the company's mission and duties in Iraq," Jody Brown, executive vice president for public relations at CACI, said in a statement.

Washington Post, today:

Justice Department prosecutors will not reopen a perjury investigation of a Bush administration civil rights lawyer whose testimony had been challenged by Senate Democrats, officials said Friday.

Bradley A. Schlozman, a former civil rights official and an acting U.S. attorney during the Bush years, had come under fire for alleged discrepancies in his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee two years ago. Senior Democrats on the panel had accused Schlozman of engaging in improper, politically motivated hiring practices and of violating protocol by bringing a voter-registration case against a liberal group days before a local election. . . .

In confirmation hearings, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. promised lawmakers that he would reevaluate the case. The new attorney general remains "disturbed and dismayed" by Schlozman's hiring strategies but has concluded that "the decision to decline prosecution of Mr. Schlozman should not be disturbed," according to a letter sent to Congress on Friday by Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich.

"To be clear, nothing in the Attorney General's determination to sustain the U.S. Attorney's decision should be construed as an endorsement of Mr. Schlozman's improper hiring and personnel-related practices," the letter said. . . .

In January, the Justice Department's inspector general and office of professional responsibility reported that Schlozman had labeled some job candidates "commies," vowed to hire "right-thinking Americans" and transferred a lawyer for allegedly writing in "ebonics" [The IG Report also concluded that he "violated civil service laws and made false statements about his activities to Congress in 2007"].

William H. Jordan, an attorney for Schlozman, said that "Brad is extremely pleased" about the conclusion of the lengthy probe.

Washington Post Editorial, today:

IT IS TROUBLING to think that there may be no appropriate legal recourse for someone who has been harmed by another's actions. Yet this may be the case for Abdullah al-Kidd. . . .

Mr. Kidd sued former attorney general John D. Ashcroft personally for allegedly misusing the material witness law as a pretext for preventive detention. Mr. Ashcroft countered that the lawsuit should be dropped because he was carrying out his duties and that his office used the material witness law appropriately in pursuit of a national security investigation. Mr. Kidd prevailed this month before a split panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which concluded that his constitutional rights against unreasonable seizures and searches were violated because the former attorney general "unlawfully used the federal material witness statute to investigate or preemptively detain."

This conclusion is wrong. Mr. Ashcroft should ask the full 9th Circuit to rehear the matter or seek Supreme Court review. . . .

The result may seem unfair. But officials should not have to fear personal lawsuits for performing their duties in good faith and in violation of no established legal precedent [even though a federal court had already explicitly warned Ashcroft that "[r]elying on the material witness statute to detain people who are presumed innocent under our Constitution in order to prevent potential crimes is an illegitimate use of the statute" - see p. 12307-08].

All of those examples are just from today, and all just from The Washington Post.  We should be collectively grateful that we don't live in Iraq or Kenya, nations tragically plagued by what The New York Times calls a "culture of impunity," whereby political elites are legally immunized from the consequences of their wrongdoing and the political culture is indifferent to -- and even supportive of -- such treatment.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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