Monday, July 14, 2008

Fantastic Greenwald Rant

If you're not reading Glenn Greenwald's columns every day, you should. While I haven't completely agreed with everything he's written, I admire and am inspired by his passion for the law.

In today's column he addresses a debate going on between Andrew Sullivan and the readers of his blog, The Daily Dish, over the relative egregiousness of the FISA law vs. torture committed by the US against Guantanamo detainees and others. In effect he writes that it's naive to try to compare one to the other in terms of which is worse:
They're all by-products of the country that we've become in the post-9/11 era,
primarily as a result of our collective decision to exempt our Government
leaders from the rule of law; to acquiesce to the manipulative claim that we can
only be Safe if we allow our Leaders to be free from consequences when they
commit crimes; and to demonize advocates of the rule of law as shrill, Leftist
hysterics who need to get off their high horses.
This is precisely the point. As an experiment, go to any one of the major media news outlets, like CNN, MSNBC, Fox, or the New York Times, Washington Post, or Time or Newsweek. More often than not you will see commentary that tries to minimize the likely outcome of this new law. No one seems to be concerned about the possibility that, under Bush or any other president with a hunger for power, this law will not be abused. That Bush would abuse this law is no surprise; but we are kidding ourselves if we think Bush is one of a kind. He was inspired by Reagan, and got away with things Nixon only dreamed of doing. He's just the latest of a string of power-hungry chief executives (in business as well as politics) who believe they're above the law. This is why I became a critic of Obama on his vote for the FISA bill. Obama, who will likely be the next president, would have a very tempting tool in his toolbox. And let's not think that he's above using that kind of power. Power corrupts, and we all know it. And let's not forget that he wouldn't be governing alone. He would have surrogates, aides, counselors, etc., who could make recommendations or simply make lower-level executive decisions based on the fact that the law allows them to do it. Maybe Obama won't spy on Arab or Muslim American citizens the way Bush will; maybe he'll go after white supremacists, or maybe he'll try to root out electoral fraud and voter fraud in places like Selma, Alabama. I think Greenwald's trying to say that, in a nation that lives under the rules of law rather than the rules of men, it doesn't matter who one is: a president who sanctions torture and the warrantless eavesdropping on private communications is as much criminal as the person who drunkenly drove his car into a crowd of pedestrians is. Prosecution is an obligation of the state, federal, or international governmental bodies that enforce the laws.

Unfortunately, it's just not that simple. Greenwald highlights an op-ed piece by Tim Rutten in the Los Angeles Times that vividly illustrates the mentality that, in a country like the US, we have never turned a policy difference into a criminal act, which is why successive regimes take office by "throwing the losers out of work -- not into jail cells." Any attempt to prosecute Bush/Cheney for war crimes (and there are plenty of those available) "risks the stability of our own electoral politics" almost as badly as Bush/Cheney have risked our national interests abroad. In other words, let's not stoop down to their level and rely on a system that works. So, the New York Times reveals that the Bush administration had been committing felonies by listening in on the phone calls of US citizens without warrants, and three years later, the Democratically-controlled Congress (I used "controlled" rather than "led" for obvious reasons) rewards that felonious behavior by giving the administration even more latitude to continue the behavior AND immunizing telecommunications companies retroactively because they allowed the federal government to commandeer their pipes at a time of national emergency. Forget the fact that not a single successful prosecution has occurred as the result of this wiretapping. Americans are "safer" with this new law.

I hope and pray that a President Obama will be more sensible and will undo the damage he has now helped to create.

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