Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

  Criminal neglect

No doubt by now you've seen the reports that say New Orleans is the city with the highest crime rate in America, with 19,000 reported crimes in 2007 according to FBI statistics. Among large cities, the three with the worst crime rates reportedly were Detroit, Baltimore, and Memphis, in that order.

Proverbial damned lies and statistics. These rankings are calculated based on just 6 categories of crime (murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and auto theft). Hence they neglect most categories of crime and in particular many of the most severe kinds of criminal activity. If these were included, one city would stand head and shoulders above the others in its single-minded devotion to criminal enterprises: Washington, DC.

What sorts of major crimes have been excluded from consideration? For starters, all manner of war crimes – things like invading a sovereign country without justification and then neglecting its internal security, killing or driving into exile millions in the process. That's a criminal enterprise on a vast scale, isn't it? All of it headquartered in Washington.

But that's just the beginning of the list, whose outer limits are unknown and probably unquantifiable. For example, the illegal electronic surveillance of Americans without warrant by the NSA - and who knows how many other federal agencies - very probably affects tens of millions of us. But the White House won't fess up and the FBI and Congress refuse to investigate so we're left to guess how many crimes have been perpetrated in this category. Of course some haters of liberty would not want to press charges anyway, but plenty of others would leap at the opportunity to put the criminals behind bars.

If violating the wiretap laws isn't considered sufficiently felonious in your household to merit much concern, then consider instead the crime of torture. At least 775 prisoners have been locked up in Guantanamo Bay prison during the last few years, every one of them subject to extensive and prolonged tortures. But an untold number of prisoners have been abused in other sites around the world as part of a criminal conspiracy directed from Washington. Torture's pretty big as felonies go, isn't it?

As for the lesser crimes committed by this same gang, they too may be beyond count. Who can really say how many documents they've destroyed or concealed, in the attempt to obstruct justice, just with regard to their torture network? And the tally for subpoenas they've flouted has been limited only by the number that were served on them.

But you know all this. I call it to mind because of the very misleading statistics I began with, which apparently exclude torture and a variety of related white collar crimes. If included, they would qualify Washington as the crime capital of the country - for several years running. By extraordinary coincidence, those statistics are compiled by the very same cabal's self-styled "Justice Department". Not only does it not maintain a tally for torture and such crimes, but neither does it seek to prosecute for them.

Which brings me to a subject much discussed in recent weeks. Any number of news reports have passed along a viewpoint being expressed by anonymous advisers to president-elect Obama. It would be inadvisable to prosecute the really big criminals in Washington, the sources will have us to know, so we should anticipate that they'll be let off the hook for all their crimes - even or especially the most egregious ones.

It's an argument from expediency. Prosecutions of well-connected criminals would prove unpopular seems to be the gist of it. There's also a second argument from expediency being circulated: that Obama won't be able to concentrate on his own agenda if he wastes time prosecuting torturers and such. Cleaning up the crime wave in Washington forms no part of Obama's agenda, these anonymous types would have us believe.

On the face of it, their suggestion is preposterous. Prosecuting federal criminals is part of the presidency, a job Obama has been seeking for two years. If the president refuses to do it, there is nobody else who can take it on. It's not a prerogative, it's a duty. These advisers seem to be implying that Obama can't walk and chew gum at the same time.

Instead, they've been promoting the idea that a body such as the 9/11 commission ought to investigate the criminals thoroughly and then just maybe do nothing to hold them accountable. You remember the 9/11 commission, the one that decided as soon as it convened "not to play the blame game". The anonymous sources have also been promoting specific proposals that Obama create a new set of kangaroo courts to try some of the torture victims and a new legal status, "preventive detention", to keep other victims locked away without trial. The purpose would be to prevent that unpleasant discovery process from exposing awkward facts in open court about crimes that might not be expedient to prosecute.

The kangaroo court idea quickly was taken back off the table by Obama after the suggestion provoked outrage. Yet it's tempting to conclude, as many have, that his advisers have fanned out under instructions to use the media to tamp down public expectations that the worst crimes will be punished as crimes. Because to fail to do that would be such a betrayal of the rule of law that one could hardly be expected to swallow it without the ground being prepared carefully in advance. And on the other hand, to let on that such a betrayal is in the works without any authorization from the president-elect would be, well, presumptuous.

But on the whole, I don't see much sense in the theory that the next president truly intends to let all these criminals off the hook. For one thing the legacy of lawlessness becomes permanent if such crimes are put off limits now. How unseemly would that be? It might lower the crime rate in Washington, true, but only because nobody's allowed to count a whole range of what used to classed as crimes. The pretense that they're really crimes sooner or later will have to be dropped.

And the criminals themselves, what will they get up to next?

But more's the point, you'd have to assume that legal chaos would ensue if laws of the utmost gravity go unenforced. For how could the government legitimately prosecute lesser crimes in the future if greater ones get written right off? It would be criminal neglect on a grand scale.

And if the criminal code starts to crumble, why should anybody assume the rest of the legal code would remain intact? Are contracts any longer enforceable if criminal laws are not?

Hmm...those anonymous advisers don't seem to have mentioned it yet, but could a cancellation of debts be in the works? As long as the next president is hollowing out the law as a favor to big time criminals, there ought to be something in it for all the rest of us. And come to think of it, I'm getting awfully tired of paying that mortgage.

How about it then, an amnesty for everyone and everything? That way we all win.

crossposted at unbossed.com

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