In my recent article Ward Churchill: The Lie Lives On (Pravda.Ru, 11/29/2010), I discussed the following realities about America's legal "system": it is duplicitous and corrupt; it will go to any extremes to insulate from prosecution, and in many cases civil liability, persons whose crimes facilitate this duplicity and corruption; it has abdicated its responsibility to serve as a "check-and-balance" against the other two branches of government, and has instead been transformed into a weapon exploited by the wealthy, the corporations, and the politically connected to defend their criminality, conceal their corruption and promote their economic interests; and, finally, that the oft-quoted adage "Nobody is above the law" is a lie.
Some critics were quick to dismiss my article as politically motivated hyperbole. But with the recent revelations disclosed by Wikileaks, it appears that this article did not even scratch the surface, because it is now evident that Barack Obama, who entered the White House with optimistic messages of change and hope, is just as complicit in, and manipulative of, the legal "system's" duplicity and corruption as was his predecessor George W. Bush.
For example, as I stated in the aforementioned article, the Obama administration has refused to prosecute former Attorney General John Ashcroft for abusing the "material witness" statute; refused to prosecute Ashcroft's successor (and suspected perjurer) Alberto Gonzales for his role in the politically motivated firing of nine federal prosecutors; refused to prosecute Justice Department authors of the now infamous "torture memos," like John Yoo and Jay Bybee; and, more recently, refused to prosecute former CIA official Jose Rodriquez Jr. for destroying tapes that purportedly showed CIA agents torturing detainees.
Predictably, the official mantra supporting these refusals is that "exhaustive" investigations had been conducted. But now, thanks to Wikileaks, the world has been enlightened to the fact that the Obama administration not only refused to prosecute these individuals itself, it also exerted pressure on the governments of Germany and Spain not to prosecute, or even indict, any of the torturers or war criminals from the Bush dictatorship.
This revelation invariably leads to three inescapable conclusions: these so-called "exhaustive investigations" were a sham; the Obama administration never intended to prosecute such crimes and, in fact, went to inordinate lengths to cover them up; and the American government has the proven capacity to influence the legal systems of other countries.
And now, given the fact that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is facing criminal charges in Sweden, it is also evident that America even has the Swedish government and Interpol in its hip pocket.
Of course, I do not know if Assange committed the crime he is accused of. I do know that to the American legal "system" the truth is irrelevant. The minute Assange revealed the extent of America's criminality and cover-ups to the world, he became a marked man. And America is going to do anything it can to silence him.
Already we see the treacherous Joe Lieberman, the man who almost single-handedly killed the "public option" in the health care reform bill so insurance companies can continue to enjoy record profits, intimidate an American server into discontinuing its transmission of Wikileaks.
And we see many right-wing commentators demanding that Assange be hunted down, with some even calling for his murder, on the grounds that he may have endangered lives by releasing confidential government documents.
Yet, for the right-wing, this apparently was not a concern when the late columnist Robert Novak "outed" CIA agent Valerie Plame after her husband Joseph Wilson authored an OP-ED piece in The New York Times criticizing the motivations for waging war against Iraq. Even though there was evidence of involvement within the highest echelons of the Bush dictatorship, only one person, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was indicted and convicted of "outing" Plame to Novak. And, despite the fact that this "outing" potentially endangered the lives of Plame's overseas contacts, Bush commuted Libby's thirty-month prison sentence, calling it "excessive."
Why the disparity? The answer is simple: The Plame "outing" served the interests of the military-industrial complex and helped to conceal the Bush dictatorship's lies, tortures and war crimes, while Wikileaks not only exposed such evils, but also revealed how Obama's administration, and Obama himself, are little more than "snake oil" merchants pontificating about government accountability while undermining it at every turn.
Of course, I realize that analogizing the Plame case to Wikileaks is imperfect, and I certainly do not support the release of documents that could endanger any lives. But it should be remembered that threats to murder Assange are just as reprehensible. In addition, they may serve to dissuade future whistleblowers from raising legitimate concerns about government corruption and criminality.
And I should also note that while I avidly support the prosecution of those who lied, tortured and committed war crimes during the Bush dictatorship, I certainly do not, unlike some critics of Assange, advocate or support any violence against them, or against any human being, regardless of his or her politics.
Now there is talk of charging Assange under America's so-called "espionage" statutes. But American history has shown how these statutes have been incessantly used to conceal government criminality.
When the United States Constitution was being created, a conflict emerged between delegates who wanted a strong federal government (the Federalists) and those who wanted a weak federal government (the anti-Federalists).
Although the Federalists won the day, one of the most distinguished anti-Federalists, George Mason, refused to sign the new Constitution, sacrificing in the process, some historians say, a revered place amongst America's founding fathers.
Two of Mason's concerns were that the Constitution did not contain a Bill of Rights, and that the presidential pardon powers would allow corrupt presidents to pardon people who had committed crimes on presidential orders.
Mason's concerns about the abuse of the pardon powers were eventually proven right when Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon, when Ronald Reagan pardoned FBI agents convicted of authorizing illegal break-ins, and when George H.W. Bush pardoned six individuals involved in the Iran-Contra Affair.
Mason was also proven right after the Federalists realized that the States would not ratify the Constitution unless a Bill of Rights was added. But this was done begrudgingly, as demonstrated by America's second president, Federalist John Adams, who essentially destroyed the right to freedom of speech via the Alien and Sedition Acts, which made it a crime to say, write or publish anything critical of the United States government.
Years later, Adams' precedent would resurface during the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, this time via the Espionage and Sedition Acts. Although these laws were designed to prohibit criticism of America's involvement in World War One, mainstream religious leaders who criticized the war were rarely prosecuted, but persons and political organizations considered to be "radical," like Socialist leader Eugene Debs and members of the Industrial Workers of the World labor union (IWW), were imprisoned and their organizations decimated.
The McCarthy era of the 1950s brought forth the full power of the Smith Act, which was allegedly created to punish communists who advocated the violent overthrow of the United States government, but was ultimately used to blacklist and, in many cases, economically destroy members of the political left.
During the 1960s and 70s, after the courts diluted much of the power of the Sedition laws, government tactics used to "neutralize" persons and political organizations became more covert. Some, like actress Jean Seberg, had false rumors circulated about them in an attempt to destroy their careers. (Seberg ultimately committed suicide as a result of one of these rumors). Others, like Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt, were framed and imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. And still others, like Chicago Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, were murdered outright.
The ironic thing about these so-called "espionage" acts is that they actually invert the concepts of crime and punishment. Most criminals break laws that others have created, and people who assist in exposing or apprehending them are usually lauded as heroes. But with the "espionage" acts, the criminals themselves have actually created laws to conceal their crimes, and exploit these laws to penalize people who expose them.
The problem with America's system of government is that it has become too easy, and too convenient, to simply stamp "classified" on documents that reveal acts of government corruption, cover-up, mendacity and malfeasance, or to withhold them "in the interest of national security." Given this web of secrecy, is it any wonder why so many Americans are still skeptical about the "official" versions of the John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King Jr. assassinations, or the events surrounding the attacks of September 11, 2001?
In the past, whenever I wrote about the evils of the Bush dictatorship, I often quoted a question folk singer Phil Ochs rhetorically asked during a 1968 concert in Vancouver, Canada: "What can you do when you're a helpless soul, a helpless piece of flesh, amid all this cruel, cruel machinery and terrible, heartless men?"
Ochs subsequently committed suicide in 1976, and while I am uncertain that this was the correct path to take, I can certainly understand his frustration. Although the election of Barack Obama gave rise to the "outrage" expressed by the so-called "tea party" movement, if there is any political group in America that has a right to be outraged, it is the Progressives. They bought into Obama's message of change and hope, believed that the criminals of the Bush dictatorship would have to answer for their crimes, and naively dreamed that America's respect for peace, justice and human rights would be restored.
But, as Wikileaks and the antics of Obama's "Justice" Department have shown, the Progressives were deceived. Yet, as in the past, they are forced to be supportive of Obama's duplicity because the alternative is worse.
I want to believe that the Wikileaks documents will change America for the better. But what undoubtedly will happen is a repetition of the past: those who expose government crimes and cover-ups will be prosecuted or branded as criminals; new laws will be passed to silence dissent; new Liebermans will arise to intimidate the corporate-controlled media; and new ways will be found to conceal the truth.
What Wikileaks has done is make people understand why so many Americans are politically apathetic and content to lose themselves in one or more of the addictions American culture offers, be it drugs, alcohol, the Internet, video games, celebrity gossip, text-messaging-in essence anything that serves to divert attention from the harshness of reality.
After all, the evils committed by those in power can be suffocating, and the sense of powerlessness that erupts from being aware of these evils can be paralyzing, especially when accentuated by the knowledge that government evildoers almost always get away with their crimes. The prevalence of such evils can shatter faith in goodness and sometimes even in God. They can transform virtues like honesty, compassion, and hope into vices and make those who cling to them suffer in poverty, depression and sorrow.
So shame on Barack Obama, Eric Holder, and all those who spew platitudes about integrity, justice and accountability while allowing war criminals and torturers to walk freely upon the earth. And shame on Germany and Spain, and all those other guilty countries, for allowing their sense of justice to be distorted by a nation that doesn't seem to know the meaning of the word.
And damn the right-wing outrage over the Wikileaks revelations. It is the American people who should be outraged that its government has transformed a nation with a reputation for freedom, justice, tolerance and respect for human rights into a backwater that revels in its criminality, cover-ups, injustices and hypocrisies.
So savor the Wikileaks documents while you can, because soon they'll be gone. And for the government criminals of the world, and for those who protect them, it will again be business as usual.
David R. Hoffman
Legal Editor of Pravda.Ru