Various matters

The ongoing death of the rule of law. The administration's cartoon depiction of Anwar Awlaki. Obama's empty vows.

By Glenn Greenwald
November 20, 2010 5:21PM (UTC)
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(1) With roughly 80% of my book now turned in and the final 20% to be turned in on Monday, it will be a few more days before I can return my full attention to writing here.  The book's title was chosen from the reader contest I held online here a couple months ago -- With Liberty and Justice for Some:  How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful -- and I'll shortly dig through the comment-section suggestions to determine the identity of the winner (and reveal the glorious prize). 

The book's central theme -- the legal immunity which political and financial elites have bequeathed to themselves even for egregious illegality, contrasted with the merciless system of punishment and coercion imposed on ordinary citizens  -- was potently highlighted by two very recent events and necessitated substantial work to include them:  (1) the mortgage/foreclosure fraud scandal and the political class's reflexive attempts to immunize the banks from the consequences of wrongdoing (see Professor Joseph Stiglitz's short article, entitled "Justice for Some," on how both the scandal and the reaction to it illustrate the death of the rule of law in America, as well as Georgetown Law Professor Adam Levitin's testimony this week that "the prime directive coming out of Treasury is ‘protect the banks’"); and (2) the DOJ's announcement that it was ending its investigation into the CIA's destruction of torture videos without any charges; that episode was one of the most flagrant acts of Bush-era lawbreaking, which is obviously saying a lot -- even the two co-Chairmen of the 9/11 Commission all but branded it "obstruction of justice" -- and the fact that there will be no prosecutions even for such blatant crimes underscores the breadth and depth of elite immunity from the rule of law.



(2) In a New York Times Op-Ed today, Yemen expert Gregory Johnsen explains why the depiction of Anwar al-Awlaki as some sort of dangerous, important Terrorist operative is pure fear-mongering fiction.  "Contrary to what the Obama administration would have you believe," he writes, "in truth Mr. Awlaki is hardly significant in terms of American security."  Moreover, "making a big deal of him now is backfiring." 

That last part about "backfiring" appears to be true in terms of Terrorism recruitment in Yemen, but "making a big deal of him" provides an important value to the administration:  that's how he's being exploited to entrench what even a Bush-43 federal judge recently described as the "extraordinary and unique" power of the President to order American citizens assassinated without due process.  That false depiction of Awlaki in turn causes far too many people who should know better to continue to cheer for that lawless power because they've become convinced -- by unchecked, unscrutinized, mostly anonymous, evidence-free government leaks -- that Awlaki is some sort of Threatening Terrorist Mastermind who deserves a presidentially-imposed death penalty:  the ultimate expression of acting as Judge, Jury and Executioner.



(3) Daphne Eviatar explains why the ongoing demands by former Bush official Jack Goldsmith and Brookings "scholar" Benjamin Wittes for imprisonment without charges would not only deface basic principles of justice but also subvert the very national security goals they claim to defend.  And just as a reminder, here's what Barack Obama said on this topic in May of last year when he placed himself in front of the U.S. Constitution to give us a lecture on the principles and guarantees in that document:

In our constitutional system, prolonged detention should not be the decision of any one man.  If and when we determine that the United States must hold individuals to keep them from carrying out an act of war, we will do so within a system that involves judicial and congressional oversight.

A year-and-a-half later, "prolonged detention" is exactly that which he vowed it should not be; his official policy is that no charges are needed, and no trials or even military tribunals required, in order to imprison someone forever.   Few things are less meaningful in our current political culture than the words and commitments that come out of Barack Obama's mouth.  In writing my book, I re-visited the gory details of how Obama emphatically vowed in October, 2007 (when he was seeking the  Democratic nomination) that -- as his spokesman put it -- he "will support a filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies," only to turn around eight months later (once he had secured the nomination) and not only vote against the Dodd/Feingold filibuster of the FISA bill that vested retroactive telecom immunity, but also then voted for the underlying bill itself.  Also:  when he issued his statement "justifying" his breaking of his pledge, he vowed that once in office, he would use the power of the Presidency to fix the abuses and flaws in the eavesdropping bill he was supporting:


I do so with the firm intention -- once I'm sworn in as president -- to have my Attorney General conduct a comprehensive review of all our surveillance programs, and to make further recommendations on any steps needed to preserve civil liberties and to prevent executive branch abuse in the future.

Don't worry:  it's only been two years.  I'm sure he's getting to that.  In retrospect, this was the pre-election event that proved to be most revealing about the type of "leader" he would be.


(4) If anyone possesses any lingering doubt that Michael Goldfarb -- aide to John McCain and Bill Kristol, among others -- is one of the most deranged individuals in our political culture, please review this message he sent out on Twitter two days ago:


Goldfarb has a long history of spouting purely authoritarian, morally repellent statements, but this one sinks just a bit lower than the rest.  Murdering detainees in cold blood is the hallmark of the most monstrous regimes and deranged psychopaths in history.  If one endorses that, one has sunk to the lowest levels of sociopathic sickness.  But the real issue is that this will not prevent Goldfarb from being hired by some GOP presidential campaign; it likely will even enhance his prospects.  That says all one needs to know about the complete collapse of norms and mores in American political culture, driven largely -- though not exclusively -- by fear-mongering over (and the malicious conflating of) Muslims and Terrorists.


(5) The Obama administration is apparently planning to lavish Israel with extremely expensive subsidies to purchase billions of dollars worth of F-35 stealth aircraft simply in exchange for a 9o-day settlement freeze.  Obama officials apparently believe that this massive bribe is necessary to induce Netanyahu's cabinet to agree to the freeze.  Why isn't the $30 billion aid package we give them -- and what ought to be the threat of its diminution or cessation along with termination of the countless other means of support we provide -- sufficient to induce this extremely minor concession, one which we insist is vital for our own security?  And just in case you were wondering:  yes, it is still true that if you question American policy toward Israel or criticize "pro-Israel advocates" in America, you will be immediately smeared as an Israel-hating anti-Semite by right-wing polemicists who strangely still appear to believe that these sad, discredited tactics will intimidate people and suppress such debate. 


(6) Two relevant items about Afghanistan:  first, this unsurprising survey about the perceptions of Afghans regarding our war there, and secondly, this grotesque glimpse into how some American military  officials think about the side benefits of violence brought to Afghan civilians.



(7) I believe I've mentioned this before, but the ongoing series at Balloon-Juice -- in which readers provide simple testimonials of how they came to adopt/rescue their pets, typically accompanied by photographs -- offers powerful insight into why doing so is so rewarding.  Read the last two -- here and here -- to see what I mean.  They have also produced a calender with over 600 photos from their readers' pets, and all proceeds from the sale of those calenders -- every dime -- goes to an animal rescue organization.

Glenn Greenwald

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