By David Hoffman
Continued. Read Part I of the article
Some defenders of America's legal system contend that justice is ultimately served in wrongful conviction cases because those victimized by them receive financial compensation for the years they spent in prison. But that too is a myth. In 1996, Richard Alexander, an African-American man, was convicted of committing several sexual assaults in River Park, a predominantly white suburb of South Bend, Indiana. None of the physical evidence matched Alexander, and the attacks continued while he was in jail awaiting trial. Nonetheless, he was tried for the assaults where no physical evidence existed, only the eyewitness identification of the victims. After a racially mixed jury failed to reach a verdict in his first trial, the prosecution retried Alexander in front of an all-white jury, and he was convicted and sentenced to seventy years in prison. He served a little over five before the real perpetrator was caught.
Since Indiana, a racist, corrupt, and politically backward state where billionaires control the Republicans and Republicans control the Statehouse, has no law to compensate the wrongfully imprisoned, Alexander had to file a lawsuit in federal court to obtain compensation for his years of wrongful imprisonment. This required him to also meet the ridiculous legal burden of proving that he had been prosecuted in "bad faith." Federal Magistrate Christopher Nuechterlein, making a decision that should have been made by a jury, subsequently ruled that Alexander could not satisfy the bad faith standard, and dismissed his case, meaning that, for losing five years of his life, Alexander did not receive a single penny.
If integrity and conscience are flawed social control mechanisms in the organized courtrooms of America's legal system, how effective are they during the uncontrolled chaos of war, perhaps the most dramatic change in environment and circumstances any human being can experience, and one far too many human beings have experienced? Suddenly killing to solve problems, socially and legally frowned upon under normal conditions, becomes, with a government's seal of approval, "heroic" and one's primary objective.
This question caused me to remember one of the most horrific wartime events in American history: The 1968 My Lai Massacre.
While casualty figures are uncertain, it is estimated that between 300 and 500 Vietnamese civilians, including women and children, were murdered by American troops. According to author Susan Brownmiller, some of the women were gang-raped before being killed. Three American servicemen, led by the late Hugh Thompson Jr., eventually stopped the massacre by turning their machine guns on their own troops.
Ironically, the My Lai Massacre failed to answer my questions about whether the environment and circumstances of war are sufficient to override one's internal social controls and the external social controls that a peaceful environment creates. The three American servicemen who stopped the massacre were in the same chaos, and fighting the same enemy, yet they realized that even in wartime what was happening was wrong. But the fact that so many American servicemen readily participated in the massacre also gives credence to the idea that internal and external social controls may indeed be ineffective in certain environments and/or circumstances. And acts of gang-rape, which clearly serve no combat purpose, support the contention that war may have simply been the excuse for some soldiers to engage in behavior they had a proclivity to engage in all along.
What the aftermath of My Lai does make clear is that internal and external social controls are often nonexistent in governments prosecuting a war, which means that actions considered to be atrocities and war crimes when committed by an enemy, suddenly become perfectly acceptable when a government's own troops or allies engage in them.
The three soldiers who stopped the massacre were rapidly denounced as "traitors" by hawkish politicians; the massacre itself was covered-up for eighteen months; William Calley, the only person convicted for participating in the massacre, was given a life sentence, yet only served a little over three years on house arrest; and Secretary of the Army Howard Callaway stated that Calley had just been following orders-a defense that, as a Wikipedia article accurately points out-directly contradicts the precedents set during the Nuremburg trials that followed World War II.
What the aftermath of the My Lai Massacre also established was an unwritten law that says severe punishments for war crimes will only be meted out to those who lose a war, unless they are military or economic superpowers, in which case punishments, if meted out at all, will always be light.
It is this unwritten law that guides the so-called "war on terror" today.
In America, a sad reality for the past few decades has been that many of the people who have held the position of United States Attorney General-the top law enforcement officer in the land-have also been corrupt, hypocritical, politicized, duplicitous, and lawless. Today's Attorney General, Eric Holder, appears determined to maintain that tradition.
The so-called "Justice" Department Holder oversees issued a memorandum a few years back opposing the posthumous pardon of Jack Johnson, America's first African-American heavyweight boxing champion, who was convicted by an all-white jury in 1913 on trumped up sex charges, because he associated with white women. Yet Holder's "Justice" Department has had no difficulty excusing the misconduct of two of the primary instigators of the now infamous torture memos: Jay Bybee and John Yoo.
Even though the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility found that both Yoo and Bybee had committed "intentional professional misconduct" that warranted disciplinary action, a senior Justice Department attorney named David Margolis overruled this finding, contending that Yoo and Bybee had simply used "poor judgment."
In other words, in the eyes of American justice, it is simply poor judgment to advocate the use of torture, including the torture of American citizens, but it is an unpardonable crime to have dated and married a person of another race during a time in America when such an action could result in lynching.
Today, Bybee sits as a federal judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the same court that recently immunized Yoo against a lawsuit filed by Jose Padilla, an American citizen who had been tortured under the auspices of Yoo's memos.
Today, Yoo earns a comfortable living teaching law, the very subject he demonstrated nothing but contempt for, as a tenured professor at the University of California at Berkeley.
Yet academic tenure and the "poor judgment" defense conveniently failed to protect Ward Churchill, who was fired by the University of Colorado for authoring a controversial essay blaming America's economic and foreign policies for the 9/11 attacks. Even though a jury ruled in Churchill's favor, stating that his firing had been in retaliation for writing this essay, and not for "academic misconduct" as the university alleged, every salvo of legal and ethical corruption and "good old boyism" that Colorado judges and the university could fire destroyed the jury's verdict and with it all remnants of academic freedom.
Too bad Churchill hadn't written an essay endorsing torture and the denial of legal due process. If he had, he would still be employed today.
If these overt hypocrisies aren't enough to illustrate just how corrupt and duplicitous America's legal system and Holder's "Justice" Department truly are, consider the diametrical manner in which two former CIA agents-John Kiriakou and Jose Rodriguez-were treated: Kiriakou willingly pled guilty, and was sentenced to thirty months in prison, for exposing America's use of torture. Yet, after a three-year whitewash (Oops, I mean "investigation"), the Justice Department refused to charge Rodriguez for willfully destroying videotapes that depicted such torture. Yet it is Rodriguez, not Kiriakou, who has tried to portray himself as the victim of an unjust system.
In a final interview before reporting to prison, Kiriakou reaffirmed that respect for human rights had prompted him to expose the CIA's use of torture. All decent Americans should feel ashamed that he languishes in prison for having such respect, while slime like Rodriguez, who has demonstrated nothing but disdain for human rights, walks free.
Unfortunately, respect for human rights seems to have no place in Holder's "Justice" Department. In what the British newspaper The Guardian described as the final whitewash of Bush-era crimes, and what I describe as the final nail in the casket of the America that once was, Holder recently announced that CIA agents who had tortured two men to death in Afghanistan and Iraq would not be prosecuted.
So if Jon Burge worked for the "Justice Department" apparently the only thing he'd be guilty of is using "bad judgment." And if he worked for the CIA, he'd be guilty of nothing at all.
The legal system in today's America not only has the disgraceful distinction of being the only institution capable of both punishing and rewarding criminal behavior, it also has the even more disgraceful distinction of punishing people for defending the values the system was created to protect, and rewarding people who demonstrate nothing but contempt for these values.
When you examine the actions of men like Margolis and Holder, and judges like those on the Ninth Circuit, it is not hyperbole to say that they not only reflect everything that is foul and evil within human nature, they elevate it to unprecedented levels. As I discussed in my recent Pravda.Ru article, Obama: Nobel Peace Prize Winning War Criminal, people who seek power over other people are usually the ones most unworthy of having it. When this verity is merged with absolute immunity doctrines and the capacity of human beings to rationalize anything, it proves that Social Control theorists might indeed be correct in asserting that deviance and criminality are a normal part of human nature.
What this theory lacks, however, is an adequate explanation for why the social controls necessary to subdue these deviant and criminal impulses work in some people and not in others, and how to instill these controls in a society where the lawmakers are routinely the lawbreakers.
Some might argue that "we the people" are the controls, because "we the people" invite criminality by electing the politicians that make the Yoos, the Margolises, the Bybees, the Holders, the Jagels, the Burges, and the Rodriguezes possible.
But Social Control Theory also acknowledges that people do possess the ability to reject these invitations, even though it might be contrary to human nature to do so. Hugh Thompson Jr. and two other soldiers at My Lai rejected them. So did two members of the "Ford Heights Four." So did John Kiriakou. And history is replete with stories of people who refused to do evil even when they knew they could get away with it or when they faced ostracism, peril and death because of their refusals. But why do they remain the exception instead of the rule? What social controls guide them that are so lacking in the people who incessantly obtain power in this world?
I will concede that in a complex and imperfect world, there are rarely absolute and inviolable principles that one can abide by in every environment or under all circumstances. But without some guiding principles, societies become nothing more than boats without rudders or automobiles without steering wheels. Nuclear weapons, humanly created viruses, global warming, the pursuit of knowledge without wisdom, the development of technologies without regard for their environmental or social consequences, the decimation of the environment, the forced extinctions of plants and animals that could ultimately result in the obliteration of the food chain, and a myriad of other calamities could all be gateways to Armageddon. But it will be humankind's capacity for evil, and its ability to rationalize that evil, that will turn the key. A culture, a society, a nation, and a world where the innocent occupy prison cells and the guilty have immunity to act with impunity; where criminals are not only those who break the law, but those who claim to enforce it; where torturers are rewarded and those who denounce torture are imprisoned; and where the worst terrorists are not those who threaten the political, legal and economic systems of a nation, but those who control the political, legal and economic systems of a nation, cannot, and for the sake of humanity must not, endure.
Thomas Jefferson once said, "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever."
God, I think it's time for you to wake up.
David R. Hoffman
Legal Editor of Pravda.Ru