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Is anyone above the law?

Many of us have been distressed by the apparent discord between President Obama’s soaring rhetoric about the Rule of Law and Civil Rights, and the actions (and lack of action) by his Dept. of Justice.

A recent article from Newsweek, analyzed yesterday by Emptywheel (Holder v. Rahm: The Torture Fight, Saturday July 11, 2009 3:55 pm) paints a picture of a Hamlet-like Holder, weighing the issue of whether or not to prosecute:

But in late June Holder asked an aide for a copy of the CIA inspector general’s thick classified report on interrogation abuses. He cleared his schedule and, over two days, holed up alone in his Justice Department office, immersed himself in what Dick Cheney once referred to as "the dark side." He read the report twice, the first time as a lawyer, looking for evidence and instances of transgressions that might call for prosecution. The second time, he started to absorb what he was reading at a more emotional level. He was "shocked and saddened," he told a friend, by what government servants were alleged to have done in America’s name. When he was done he stood at his window for a long time, staring at Constitution Avenue.

Klaidman’s article cites four anonymous sources as suggesting that Holder is considering appointing a prosecutor to investigate crimes related to torture.

In this context, Obama’s farewell speech to Ghana makes a number of interesting statements. In his prepared text, he wrote,

In the 21st century, capable, reliable and transparent institutions are the key to success — strong parliaments; honest police forces; independent judges … an independent press; a vibrant private sector; a civil society. Those are the things that give life to democracy, because that is what matters in people’s everyday lives…

Now, America will not seek to impose any system of government on any other nation. The essential truth of democracy is that each nation determines its own destiny. But what America will do is increase assistance for responsible individuals and responsible institutions, with a focus on supporting good governance — on parliaments, which check abuses of power and ensure that opposition voices are heard … on the rule of law, which ensures the equal administration of justice; on civic participation, so that young people get involved; and on concrete solutions to corruption like forensic accounting and automating services … strengthening hot lines, protecting whistle-blowers to advance transparency and accountability…

That is why we must stand up to inhumanity in our midst. It is never justified, never justifiable to target innocents in the name of ideology. It is the death sentence of a society to force children to kill in wars. It is the ultimate mark of criminality and cowardice to condemn women to relentless and systemic rape. We must bear witness to the value of every child in Darfur and the dignity of every woman in the Congo. No faith or culture should condone the outrages against them. And all of us must strive for the peace and security necessary for progress….

But Obama departed from his published text, and apparently revised it. The video of his speech differs about 5 minutes into the 8 minute speech when he started talking about our "Shared ideals," looking down from time to time at his text (so he was not speaking extemporaneously). Marcy Wheeler has found the text of the speech, as delivered, from the White House Press Office [whitehouse-lists-noreply@list.whitehouse.gov]. In this "shared ideals" portion of his speech, Obama said,

We believe that no one, whether it’s through the influence of politics, the power of money, or the fear of force is above the law. And we believe that we’re all equal, all endowed with basic human dignity, all entitled to basic human rights.

That’s a pretty powerful statement.

A minute later, he told the Ghanaians, "You have the power to hold your leaders accountable."

Now it remains to be seen whether the President’s AG will follow his lead, and put into practice what the President has so eloquently articulated.

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bobschacht

bobschacht

Joined the Dean Democrats in 2004 in Arizona; became Organizer, Democracy for America, Honolulu Meetup, after moving to Hawaii;
Secretary, Progressive Democrats of Hawaii. Moved back to Arizona, 2009

I grew up in the Midwest, taught Anthropology at the University of Maryland, Wayne State University, Rice University, Colorado State University, and the College of Ganado; Moved to Arizona in 1987 and worked for the American Indian Rehabilitation Research and Training Center until 2004, when the Center went out of business. Retired in 2009 from my job in Hawaii, moved back to Arizona, and am temporarily teaching anthropology at Northern Arizona University

Hobbies: Family History; also, I play bluegrass music on bass & guitar.

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