You are hereTruthout: Glenn Greenwald: Why Is the Elite Class Protected Under America's Justice System?

Truthout: Glenn Greenwald: Why Is the Elite Class Protected Under America's Justice System?

-by Mark Karlin

October 25, 2011- Mark Karlin: Although your book, "With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful," is primarily on the increasingly adverse climate for civil liberties at the federal level, needless to say, your title seems made to order for what is happening with Occupy Wall Street. Protesters are getting arrested, while the elite perpetrators of Wall Street malfeasance and fraud go free. Is this a localized application of "how the law is used to destroy equality and protect the powerful"?

Glenn Greenwald: Actually, what is happening with the Occupy Wall Street protests is as perfect an illustration of the book's argument as anything I could have imagined. The book's central theme is that law is no longer what it was intended to be - a set of rules equally binding everyone to ensure that outcome inequalities are at least legitimate - and instead has become the opposite: a tool used by the politically and financially powerful to entrench their own power and control the society. That's how and why the law now destroys equality and protects the powerful.

What we see with the protests demonstrates exactly how that works. The police force - the instrument of law enforcement - is being used to protect powerful criminals who have suffered no consequences for their crimes. It is simultaneously used to coerce and punish the powerless: those who are protesting and who have done nothing wrong, yet are subjected to an array of punishment ranging from arrest to pepper spray and other forms of abuse.

That's what the two-tiered justice system is: elites are immunized for egregious crimes while ordinary Americans are subjected to merciless punishment for trivial transgressions.

MK: In your columns on Salon, you have been a relentless upholder of constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties regardless of what political party is in power. This has put you at odds with both the Bush and Obama administrations. To many progressives, your dissection of the current White House's growing constraint on civil liberties is shocking. To what do you attribute the Obama administration's actions to go further than the Bush administration did in curbing civil liberties?

GG: It's difficult to assess motives, but one major difference between Bush and Obama is that Bush at least had one major political party pretending to find his abuses objectionable. By contrast, Obama has very little opposition: Republicans are being consistent by cheering for limitless executive power and civil liberties abuses carried out in the name of fighting Terrorism, but now, Democrats are either indifferent to those actions or outright supportive because they're now being carried out by their own party's leader. Bush's radicalism was seen as controversial right-wing dogma, but Obama has transformed it into bipartisan consensus, and thus strengthened it.

Part of what is happening is likely political: Democrats have often been accused of being soft on Terror, and if Obama were to abandon Bush's policies - the ones he promised to reverse when campaigning - he'd likely be politically vulnerable if there were another terrorist attack on US soil. Embracing the Bush/Cheney template is a means of immunizing himself from those attacks.

Finally, people convinced of their own Goodness often view restraints on their own power as unnecessary. After all, he's a Good Progressive and well-intentioned - unlike those evil Republicans - and we should therefore trust him to do things in total secrecy, without oversight and accountability. I think that extremely flattering self-image is part of what motivates these actions as well.

MK: There has been much speculation on this, but why do you think the Obama administration did not prosecute Bush officials who violated US and international standards of law?

GG: Both parties - and successive Presidents - benefit from elite immunity. They know that if they protect each other, then they, too, can commit crimes with impunity. A November, 2008 New York Times article was incredibly telling in this regard. It reported on Obama's opposition to investigations into Bush crimes of torture and warrantless eavesdropping - opposition revealed only after he was safely elected - and it explained that "because every President eventually leaves office, incoming chief executives have an incentive to quash investigations into their predecessor's tenure." As I wrote in the book about this article: "In other words, by letting criminal bygones be bygones within the executive branch, presidents uphold a gentleman's agreement to shield either other from accountability for any crimes they might want to commit in office."

It's the same reason that media elites and others are so opposed to these investigations as well: elites obviously benefit from elite immunity, and so have an interest in not subverting it when other elites commit crimes. I have no doubt that part of Obama's reluctance was political - a belief that applying the rule of law to Bush, Cheney and others would create political turbulence for him - but a significant motivating factor was undoubtedly the desire not to have his own actions investigated once he leaves office if the GOP controls the Executive Branch (and, thus, the Justice Department).



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