Justice Party Presidential Candidate Rocky Anderson on Transparency and the Rule of Law Under Obama
Former Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson, an advocate for human rights, justice and the rule of law, is running for president as a Justice Party candidate. He accepted the nomination in January and has been working to raise awareness on key issues and organize people around the country with his campaign.
I interviewed Anderson as part of coverage The Dissenter at Firedoglake has planned to demonstrate that media should not ignore other third-party candidates simply because commentators, editors, pundits or reporters find it “unrealistic” or a waste for Americans to support and possibly even vote for candidates who are unlikely to win the election. The two parties are responsible for the current state of this country. There are voices out there who have a right to run for president and are boldly taking on an antidemocratic system that is rigged to limit choices and exclude voices.
America does not have a multi-party system that makes it more acceptable for third party candidates to run. That is to the detriment of this nation, and ignoring this defect in government and society only exacerbates profound issues.
Below is a transcript of the interview. Anderson addresses the importance of having a candidate with a commitment to the rule of law, along with why prosecutions of people who commit financial or war crimes are necessary. He comments on the Obama administration’s record on transparency and openness and comments on the war on whistle blowers, including the prosecution of Pfc. Bradley Manning. The notion of looking forward and not back, which Obama has promoted with his presidency, and the struggles one faces as a third party presidential candidate are highlighted as well.
[Interview below the fold]
KEVIN GOSZTOLA, The Dissenter: You’re a Justice Party candidate. You have a commitment to justice and the rule of law. Would you share a bit on your background and why you think it is important to have a presidential candidate who is out there speaking specifically about issues of justice and the rule of law?
ROCKY ANDERSON, Justice Party Presidential Candidate: I went to law school because of a deep commitment to the rule of law and to doing all that’s possible to allow free equal access to our justice system. I did a lot of pro bono work. I did a lot of civil rights work. I did everything I could to vindicate people’s constitutional rights in order to help breathe life into our Constitution.
During the Bush and Obama years, we have seen a very dangerous and radical transformation of our country toward an imperial presidency, where the rule of law has been undermined because of more immediate political opportunism by the presidents and members of their administrations. When one person purports to determine whether a law will be applied and against whom, that is the very definition of tyranny. It’s the beginning of the toppling of what is most core to our Constitution and the notion of a republic.
Several instances of that are the propensity of both the Bush and Obama administrations to knock the courts out of the checks and balances equation by asserting the state secrets doctrine when the legal conduct by the Executive Branch has been challenged in the courts. It is so counter to what our nation has always stood for when the Executive Branch can violate both domestic laws and treaty obligations by engaging in war crimes or when a prior administration has engaged in war crimes and then when those abuses are challenged in the court the cases are not allowed to be determined on their merits but are dismissed because the Executive Branch asserts continuing the cases would require the disclosure of important state secrets. It’s also happened in the context of challenges to blatantly illegal surveillance of Americans’ communications.
President Bush bald-facedly claimed that neither the Congress nor the Constitution could restrict what he did in the context of the so-called war on terror because he was head of what he called the unitary Executive Branch. President Obama doesn’t use that outrageous terminology, but he has gone to even more extremes to ratchet up the imperial presidency. Never before has a president of the United States and Congress colluded to pass a bill and sign into law a provision that would allow the government to kidnap anyone, including United States citizens, send them off to a military prison for up to the rest of their lives without charges, without trial, without legal assistance and without the right of habeas corpus. This is a complete transformation of not only what has always been protected under our Constitution but really the freedoms that are at the core of what this nation has always been about.
The disregard for the War Power clause by both Bush and Obama has been absolutely appalling, as have been the abrogation by Congress of its constitutional duty to be the sole branch of government determining whether this nation goes to war. In the long run, nothing can be more vital to the continuation and preservation of our republic than restoring the rule of law.
GOSZTOLA: You raise a lot of key issues. What is your take on how the Obama administration has treated whistleblowers and what this says about the imperial presidency that has grown into existence in the past decade?
ANDERSON: President Obama promised transparency and openness, and it has probably been one of the worst administrations if not the worst in terms of hiding information from the people of the United States and punishing those who seek to disclose that information. The treatment of Bradley Manning is the perfect example.
Bradley Manning helped alert the American public about numerous outrages by our government, including cold-blooded murder of civilians including Reuters journalists in Baghdad. The video of those killings is now available solely because of Bradley Manning’s heroic efforts to get that information disseminated through WikiLeaks. But instead of the people responsible for the killings being held accountable, the messenger is incarcerated, treated in a very cruel and sadistic fashion, even before trial, and then threatened with perhaps spending the rest of his life in prison. This administration is obviously trying to make certain that others, who try to disclose truth, are dissuaded from doing that.
President Obama took extraordinary steps to make certain that photographs of agents of the United States engaging in torture were not disclosed. He completely disregarded the rule of law by beginning this term saying that war criminals would not be prosecuted and that we needed to look forward and not backward. He has resisted any investigative hearings. All of this completely undermines any notion of openness and transparency and is indeed fundamentally anti-democratic. When the truth is hidden from the American people, we cannot be informed voters. And democracy really requires we have access to the truth.
This is a very different situation than what we’ve experienced in our nation’s history. There certainly have been moments where abuses have occurred but ultimately there were calls for investigations, for the truth to be disclosed and for there [to be] steps taken to deter that kind of misconduct in the future. One of the finest examples of that was in the late 1970s with the congressional committee, the Church Committee. President Ford appointed the Rockefeller Commission.
They were all looking at abuses by our nation’s intelligence community and the disclosures were shocking. What an amazing moment for our democracy to see that we had statesmen and stateswomen who would step and insist that the truth be known regardless of where the chips may fall. That’s really what the rule of law is all about. And whether or not there are prosecutions, there’s at least accountability in terms of the public record and history and a basis for structuring changes that can help deter that sort of misconduct in the future.
We’re not seeing anything in Congress or in the White House that would help lead us toward the truth, and, in fact, they are doing everything possible, including the crackdown on whistleblowers, to make certain the truth doesn’t get out.
GOSZTOLA: About your support for prosecutions—I’d like to hear you discuss why you think going after people who have committed alleged war crimes or even alleged financial crimes is critical to addressing the culture of predatory capitalism (in the financial realm) or war crimes (in the realm of international relations). I am wondering what you’re thoughts are, because Obama has prized himself on this ethos of “looking forward and not looking back.” To tie it in to the previous question on whistleblowing, Thomas Drake, an NSA whistleblower—There’s no prosecutions for NSA wiretapping yet he was prosecuted.
ANDERSON: This whole concept of looking forward instead of backwards is simply another way that the rule of law is going to be disregarded and the president and his cronies are going to decide when and how and against whom the law will be applied. We’re living in a country where there is a two-tiered system of justice where thousands of felonies can be committed from the president on down to the functionaries within the National Security Agency and nobody is held to account. So Congress has passed the laws, like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, to prevent the very kind of conduct that has taken place and yet one president has said he is above the law and the next president basically confirms it and says we’re not going to hold them to account.
Go out and shoplift a loaf of bread to help feed your family and, when you go before a judge or jury, try that defense—we ought to just look forward and not look backwards. There’s a very wealthy and powerful elite in this country that escapes the reach of the law and to save the president and others in his administration. And the law in many instances is applied with a vengeance for everybody else.
When Wall Street made record contributions to President Obama’s campaign four years ago, the return on that investment was enormous. Not only has this administration resisted breaking up banks that are too big to fail, setting us up for another economic disaster, but it has failed and refused to hold anyone criminally accountable for the blatant and massive fraud on Wall Street that helped lead to the economic meltdown, which has been devastating and continues to be devastating for many millions of people throughout the nation.
A democracy with a healthy separation of powers, with checks and balances in government—The law is supposed to be applied equally to everyone. Justice is supposed to be blind. And yet President Obama lifts those blinders off of justice and determines which people get to commit federal felonies, whether war crimes, illegal surveillance, financial fraud, all of it to the vast detriment of the people of this nation and determine will be prosecuted for criminal violations and who won’t.
An appalling comparison is to consider the treatment of federal felons that engaged in illegal surveillance, none of whom have been held criminally accountable, and the chilling and horrendous treatment of people like Thomas Drake who try to get the truth out about these practices. All of this needs to be viewed together to realize how our nation has been so dangerously transformed into what more and more resembles an empire-building dictatorship where the law doesn’t matter anymore and control is exercised by an elite cabal of very powerful and wealthy people.
GOSZTOLA: Finally, what can you say about your campaign and what kind of strides you’ve been able to make as a candidate? What comments do you have on the prejudice toward people who try to run outside of the two-party system? And what do you say about these issues you’ve raised and how the two most prominent parties in the country are preserving or not doing anything to address these developments or problems in society?
ANDERSON: It is absolutely certain that regardless of who wins the presidential race and regardless of who hold the majority the Congress that the plutocratic corrupt system, where the wealthy call the shots in Washington, DC, will continue. We need a major shift in this nation and it is not going to happen with either the Republican or Democratic Parties, both of whom feed from the same trough of special interest money. That’s why I am running and why the Justice Party was formed.
We all know that the only reason the United States is the only industrialized nation in the world that doesn’t provide essential healthcare to all of our citizens is because of the corrupting influence from for-profit insurance and pharmaceutical industries. Same thing holds true with our absurdly wasteful military budget. The rip-offs of the for-profit colleges and the tremendous indebtedness by so many students who have gone to those colleges would never have happened without the corrupting influence of money from the owners of those for-profit colleges, which include firms like Goldman Sachs.
So, we knew this was going to be an extremely important race at this period in our nation’s history. It’s not so much about winning this presidential election as it is taking this opportunity to raise awareness, organize people and mobilize in a broad-based fashion as many people as we can across the country so that we can create a people’s movement for major changes, including of course the restoration of the rule of law, an end to empire-building and the illegal wars of aggression and reprioritizing the commitment of our nation’s resources so the public interest is served.
We have faced unbelievable obstacles. Not only does the mainstream media by and large ignore alternatives to the Republican and Democratic duopoly but just getting on the ballot in many states has been rendered almost impossible. This is a sign of a democracy that has been degraded beyond belief by the Republican and Democratic parties. We’re spending almost all of our time on ballot access right now and in the end we’ll probably only be on the ballots in sixteen or eighteen states.
There’s some states where there hasn’t been an independent or third party candidate for president for many years, meaning that the voters are deprived of other choices which is on its face is completely contrary any concept of democracy. When you think of the major or third party candidates running or who have recently run, you really have to wonder why in the world would the mainstream media not provide greater coverage to these very substantial people who have important ideas for the American people to consider. You have the likes of Buddy Roemer, former governor of Louisiana, Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico. Me—I’ve had infinitely more management and executive experience than Barack Obama ever had before he walked into the White House. And then, of course, Jill Stein, who has had a tremendous record of public service as well as being a Harvard-trained physician. These are all people who are committed to getting the corrupting influence of money out of the government. We stand with the American people.
What Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are doing is absolutely counter to all of that, counter to the interests of the American people, and yet the mainstream media spends ninety-nine percent of the time covering them instead of considering what it is that we third-party and independent candidates have to say. And, again this isn’t all about who is going to win and who is going to lose in an election. It’s about having a public dialogue and getting information or viewpoints out that can help lead to change in the long-run. Ross Perot made an enormous difference, a very positive difference, running as a third-party candidate. Teddy Roosevelt ran with the Progressive Party. Some people would call it the Bull Moose Party. And much of what he was advocating in his race ended up being implemented into law, even though he didn’t win that election. So, there can be significant positive changes brought about by third party and independent races but when mainstream media is only covering two sides of what I think is the same coin of a rotten plutocracy that betrays the public interest daily, it’s going to be very difficult.