“Are we no longer a country governed by the rule of law?”

I think it’s time to ask: Where are we, as a society? Are we no longer a country governed by the rule of law, where no one is above or beyond that law? Are we so mistrustful of government—and of law enforcement—that we are willing to let bad guys walk away…willing to leave victims in search of justice?[1]

It was my last semester teaching public speaking at California State University, East Bay, in Hayward. I was about to graduate with my Master’s degree in speech communication and in doing so, lose that job. Barack Obama, not yet inaugurated as president of the United States, referring to multiple Bush administration adventures of doubtful legality, including torture and the war in Iraq, expressed “a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.”[2]

Imagine, I asked my students, if you had bombed a neighbor’s home, kidnapped him/her, and murdered his/her family. Imagine you’d gone on a rampage, doing this to several families. What would your local district attorney say? Would s/he  say “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards?”

Since that time, it has become more than evident that Obama has embraced and expanded Bush policies, that Obama is indistinguishable from a neoconservative.[3]

On the same television program where Obama expressed a preference for “look[ing] forward,” he said, in a New York Times paraphrase, “that there should be prosecutions if ‘somebody has blatantly broken the law’ but that his legal team was still evaluating interrogation and detention issues and would examine ‘past practices.'”[4]

Today, we know the outcome. The Obama administration has effectively granted immunity to Bush administration figures for their crimes.[5] And, as Glenn Greenwald put it,

The second term of the Bush administration and first five years of the Obama presidency have been devoted to codifying and institutionalizing the vast and unchecked powers that are typically vested in leaders in the name of war. Those powers of secrecy, indefinite detention, mass surveillance, and due-process-free assassination are not going anywhere. They are now permanent fixtures not only in the US political system but, worse, in American political culture.[6]

This isn’t the only case. The Obama administration has also generally failed to prosecute the crimes of the financial industry which led to the collapse of the economy.[7] The resulting recession reached its nadir just as I was graduating.[8] I haven’t been employed since and my prospects seem bleak.

So I have to say, I’m just not all that impressed when Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey complains about smartphone encryption. When he asks rhetorically, “Are we no longer a country governed by the rule of law, where no one is above or beyond that law?”[9] my answer is unequivocal. Look at the record.

Note: In the foregoing, I neglected to point to an article by Dan Froomkin. Republicans seem poised to win control of the Senate in the November election, now only a few days away, and the Obama administration has been moving so slowly on declassifying a Senate Intelligence Committee report that condemns the Central Intelligence Agency’s use of torture that Froomkin asks in his headline, “Is Obama Stalling Until Republicans Can Bury the CIA Torture Report?”[10]

  1. [1]James B. Comey, “Going Dark: Are Technology, Privacy, and Public Safety on a Collision Course?” Federal Bureau of Investigation, October 16, 2014, http://www.fbi.gov/news/speeches/going-dark-are-technology-privacy-and-public-safety-on-a-collision-course
  2. [2]David Johnston and Charlie Savage, “Obama signals his reluctance to investigate Bush programs,” New York Times, January 2, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/12/world/americas/12iht-12inquire.19265701.html
  3. [3]David Benfell, “Obama and the Power of Prayer,” Not Housebroken, January 20, 2011, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=2015; David Benfell, “Raining on Terrell’s parade,” Not Housebroken, December 17, 2012, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=5266; David Benfell, “Oy Vey: Paleoconservatives, Neoconservatives, and Alleged Anti-Semitism,” April 1, 2014, https://parts-unknown.org/wp/2014/04/01/oy-vey-paleoconservatives-neoconservatives-and-alleged-anti-semitism/
  4. [4]David Johnston and Charlie Savage, “Obama signals his reluctance to investigate Bush programs,” New York Times, January 2, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/12/world/americas/12iht-12inquire.19265701.html
  5. [5]Glenn Greenwald, “Obama’s justice department grants final immunity to Bush’s CIA torturers,” Guardian, August 31, 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/31/obama-justice-department-immunity-bush-cia-torturer
  6. [6]Glenn Greenwald, “Washington gets explicit: its ‘war on terror’ is permanent,” Guardian, May 17, 2013, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/may/17/endless-war-on-terror-obama
  7. [7]Jason M. Breslow, “As Deadlines Loom for Financial Crisis Cases, Prosecutors Weigh Their Options,” Public Broadcasting System, January 22, 2013, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/business-economy-financial-crisis/untouchables/as-deadlines-loom-for-financial-crisis-cases-prosecutors-weigh-their-options/; Jason M. Breslow, “Too Big To Jail? The Top 10 Civil Cases Against the Banks,” Frontline, January 22, 2013, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/business-economy-financial-crisis/untouchables/too-big-to-jail-the-top-10-civil-cases-against-the-banks/; Jason M. Breslow, “Were Bankers Jailed In Past Financial Crises?” Public Broadcasting System, January 22, 2013, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/business-economy-financial-crisis/untouchables/were-bankers-jailed-in-past-financial-crises/; David Dayen, “Wall Street wins again,” Salon, February 13, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/02/13/wall_street_wins_again/; Frontline, “Phil Angelides: Enforcement of Wall St. is ‘Woefully Broken’,” Public Broadcasting System, January 22, 2013, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/business-economy-financial-crisis/untouchables/phil-angelides-enforcement-of-wall-st-is-woefully-broken/; Frontline, “Ted Kaufman: Wall Street Prosecutions Never Made a Priority,” Public Broadcasting System, January 22, 2013, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/business-economy-financial-crisis/untouchables/ted-kaufman-wall-street-prosecutions-never-made-a-priority/; Office of the Inspector General Audit Division, “Audit of the Department of Justice’s Efforts to Address Mortgage Fraud,” U. S. Department of Justice, March 2014, http://www.justice.gov/oig/reports/2014/a1412.pdf; Barry Ritholz, “Why Prosecutors Whiffed on Subprime Crime,” Bloomberg View, March 14, 2014, http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2014-03-14/why-prosecutors-whiffed-on-subprime-crime; David Sirota, “Are banks too big to jail?” Salon, January 23, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/01/23/are_banks_too_big_to_jail/; David Sirota, “Barack Obama, Wall Street co-conspirator,” Salon, January 29, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/01/29/barack_obama_wall_street_co_conspirator/;
  8. [8]National Bureau of Economic Research, “Business Cycle Dating Committee,” September 20, 2010, http://www.nber.org/cycles/sept2010.htm
  9. [9]James B. Comey, “Going Dark: Are Technology, Privacy, and Public Safety on a Collision Course?” Federal Bureau of Investigation, October 16, 2014, http://www.fbi.gov/news/speeches/going-dark-are-technology-privacy-and-public-safety-on-a-collision-course
  10. [10]Dan Froomkin, “Is Obama Stalling Until Republicans Can Bury the CIA Torture Report?” Intercept, October 23, 2014, https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/10/23/white-house-waiting-gop-senate-kill-feinsteins-torture-report/

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