Essential Reading: “With Liberty and Justice for Some” by Glenn Greenwald
“As a litigator who practiced for more than a decade in federal and state courts across the country, I’ve long been aware of the inequities that pervade the American justice system,” journalist and forthright civil liberties advocate Glenn Greenwald begins his candid quest through the maze of government and elite impunity. As a former pawn in the injustice system, Greenwald provides an insider’s view on the racist, classist legal process that all too often leaves the country’s most vulnerable in the punitive shadows as the political class enjoys the luxuries of complete exemption.
The tour of the nepotistic system begins with a Bush-era focus on the privileges of the government officials. From torture practices to warrantless domestic spying, the Bush administration has yet to face any legal prosecution for its crimes dating back to the early 2000s. Violations of peace treaties, such as the Geneva Conventions and the Conventions Against Torture, have not even been investigated although legal action against the administration’s illegal practices was a 2008 campaign promise from President Barack Obama.
But the immunity dates even further back. Nixon’s felonies of authorizing the Watergate break-in and obstructing an investigation were pardoned by his handpicked vice president, Gerald Ford. Ford’s pardon would later be applauded by none other than another criminal: Ford’s former chief of staff and former vice president Dick Cheney, who had already crafted an international web of torture prisons and organized warrantless spying of Americans. Both hailed the pardon as an act of heroism, rather than an act of justifying elite immunity. The pardon would go on to set a dangerous precedent that shielded the Reagan administration from prosecution after the Iran-Contra scandal in 1986 in which officials had sold arms to the Ayatollah Khomeini regime, violating the Boland Amendment Reagan himself had signed into law four years earlier.
An important point Greenwald hits right on target is how each succeeding president campaign promises to prosecute former administrations for legal wrongdoings. Clinton vowed to investigate H. W. Bush crimes and Obama campaigned on prosecuting Bush administration felonies. But once they settled comfortably in the White House, the promises dissipated for one selfish reason: so that they themselves could eventually be protected for future crimes.
But government cronies also enjoy such invincibility. Greenwald illustrates private sector immunity, specifically with the telecomm industry and its assistance in warrantless wiretapping. Post-9/11 scare tactics justified the Bush administration’s illegal eavesdropping prohibited by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a policy the president justified as anti-terrorism precautions. With help from private sector entities, such as AT&T, BellSouth and Verizon, hundreds of thousands of Americans were illegally spied on in the marriage of private and public sectors. As Greenwald notes, “Such melding of the public and private forces now characterizes most areas of government, and has resulted in the creation of a single large, self-protecting entity.” Through retroactive immunity, private sector companies conspired with government administrations to make a complete mockery of the rule of law, creating an illegal armor of defense for themselves while other Americans are prosecuted without question.
There is no better illustration of the powerful protected from the law than the too big to jail banks that brought on the financial crisis of 2008. Not only did the offenders receive the generous $700 billion taxpayer bailout, they escaped without a scratch while millions of Americans sunk into financial ruin. The crisis spiraled into a long-term unemployment crisis, millions of home foreclosures and a swelling student loan bubble ready to burst. But as ordinary Americans suffered, Wall Street tycoons prospered at alarming rates. “America’s financial elites have not only stockpiled vast amounts of material wealth but also acquired control over all the government and legal institutions that might stand in the way of their corruption and stealing,” Greenwald writes.
Of course, just as the elite revel in puppeteering the injustice system, most Americans, especially the poor and people of color, are destroyed by the heavy hand of the law. The United States prison state has expanded virally with the country having 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. “What it represents is a deliberate choice by the political class to lock up more and more people for longer periods and for ever more trivial offenses,” Greenwald notes. Between the failed War on Drugs and an exploding private prison industry, the American injustice system continues to claim more lives than the crimes being committed do.
By the book’s epilogue, Greenwald has sufficiently crafted the argument of elite impunity. The rule of law in the United States only exists for those who are not able to manipulate it: the working class, the poor and people of color. Through retroactive immunity, the absence of watchdog media and reciprocated pardons, liberty and justice have become a privilege for the wealthy and governmental elite, completely dismissing on the rule of law.