I know it’s gauche for progressives to care about silly things like the rule of law, transparency, and opposing torture or war crimes, but nonetheless it’s worth pointing out Glenn Greenwald’s look at three parallel cases which demonstrate the sad state of equal justice in America today. Greenwald puts side by side the case of the Obama Department of Justice’s prosecution of charges for an accused leak related to water boarding against CIA agent John Kiriakou, the dismissal of US citizen Jose Padilla’s lawsuit against Donald Rumsfeld for the torture he face while in US detention without habeas corpus rights, and the settlement of a punishment deal for a Marine sergeant who gave orders which lead to 24 Iraqi civilians to be killed in Haditha. Greenwald looks at these cases and notes:
The Rules of American Justice are quite clear:
(1) If you are a high-ranking government official who commits war crimes, you will receive full-scale immunity, both civil and criminal, and will have the American President demand that all citizens Look Forward, Not Backward.
(2) If you are a low-ranking member of the military, you will receive relatively trivial punishments in order to protect higher-ranking officials and cast the appearance of accountability.
(3) If you are a victim of American war crimes, you are a non-person with no legal rights or even any entitlement to see the inside of a courtroom.
(4) If you talk publicly about any of these war crimes, you have committed the Gravest Crime — you are guilty of espionage – and will have the full weight of the American criminal justice system come crashing down upon you.
It’s hard to disagree with Greenwald’s assessments of the state of play in American justice. It’s equally hard to not recognize that what Greenwald is describing is functionally identical under the Obama administration as it was under the Bush administration, excepting that Obama has been more aggressive in prosecuting whistleblowers than Bush ever was.
There is nothing that requires the Obama administration behave in this way. While his flip-flop from promising to filibuster FISA to voting in favor of its passage gave some indication that Obama was not trustworthy on civil liberties, Obama nonetheless campaigned on a platform which highlighted transparency and restoring the rule of law as landmarks of what his administration would look like. After all, we were often reminded, he was a constitutional law professor. The gap between what was promised and what we have received in these matters is sadly wide and does not look to be diminishing, but increasing.