Politicizing the Prosecutors


An editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times the other day reminded me that there are more players in the Bush Admin than the chickenhawks, and more issues to fear than Iraq.

Remember John Ashcroft, who was crossing the country a couple of weeks ago stumping for a new-and-improved PATRIOT II? Apparently Mr. A is not content with assaulting the Constitution; he wants to bring down the whole legal system, or at least force it to a crashing halt, and he wants to do it by increasing his personal control over the country’s prosecutors, and through them, the courts.

Ashcroft, in the latest step in what can only be described as a campaign to concentrate power in his hands, has ordered federal prosecutors to seek the most serious charges possible in nearly any case they handle. Those who don’t must first seek permission from the Justice Department. That sounds very tough on criminals. But what it actually is is tough on prosecutors. Our legal system is notoriously overburdened, and plea bargaining is the grease that allows the machinery to clank along in the slow, imperfect manner that it does now.

A whopping 96 percent of the 60,000 cases dealt with by federal prosecutors in 2001 ended in plea bargains — where criminals agree to plead guilty in return for reduced sentencing. Without a plea bargain, those cases would go to trial, and it is difficult to understand how the federal system could continue to function with a caseload of trials suddenly multiplied by 20. Even if permission were granted to plea-bargain in every case, just seeking approval would eat up valuable time better spent fighting crime.

As worrisome as the logistics are for what Ashcroft is trying to do, the implications for consolidation of power are even more ominous. Just last month, Ashcroft got Congress to grant him the authority to establish what amounts to a blacklist of federal judges who impose sentences that for some reason deviate beneath the legal maximum. Having tightened the reins on the federal judiciary, he is now seeking to turn a vital part of our criminal justice system — federal law enforcement operating with discretion on a local level — into volitionless puppets of Washington bureaucrats. (emphasis added)

See, the vast yearning for an American Empire doesn’t just belong to the rabid neocon chickenhawks, no no.

Johnny may not have a gun

but he’s going to have some fun

anyway.

They’re putting the Empire together right under our noses. They’re not just trashing the Constitution for the hell of it; there’s a method to their madness, and while its muscle shows in Iraq, its underpinnings show in the changes they want for the legal system.

Empires require far more power than democracies, for obvious reasons. Few democracies have withstood the demands of Empire and survived. The Brits did it (barely) but only because the source of their political power in the 19th century didn’t have to come from a top-down organizational structure superimposed–by force, if necessary–on a heterogeneous society; they already had a top-down structure in place: a rigid class system that, with a few exceptions for extraordinary merit, centralized power in the hands of the aristocrats. Democracy in Britain didn’t exactly flourish in the 19th century, but it managed to survive.

The US has no such class system. If we are to embark on the formation of the Pax Americana Empire, our rulers are going to need a lot more raw power in their dainty white hands than they’ve got now. PATRIOT I was only a shot across the bow, or what the Brits would call “the thin end of the wedge”. It started the process of removing all those pesky Constitutional restraints that get in the way of removing any enemies (on the outside or the inside) who might manage to throw a monkey-wrench into our Imperial Machine with their whining dissent, their traitorous demonstrations, and their refusal to go along with our plans. Empires speak with one voice, not a thousand–that’s confusing. The extra voices must be silenced, or at least controlled (read: “repressed”) so the Empire can get on with business.

PATRIOT II is a consolidation and extension of the necessity to disembowel the Constitution, but it is Ashcroft’s bald power-play that brings the game into the light for what it is and simultaneously takes us to a new level. It is the first obvious move by any Bush Admin consigliere to bring what has always before been (and in a real democracy must be) a locally controlled govt service–Justice–directly into the hands of a single individual. This is a classic move toward Imperial Law, and a necessary move if the Empire is to be born.

It’s not enough, of course, but they’re smart enough not to try to do this all at once–if they tried to do it in a lump, the sleeping citizenry would wake up, horrified, and stop it. No, we’re using the well-known scientific principle called “adaptational acclimatization” illustrated by the hot-water frog you might remember from high-school. If you put a frog in a bowl of scalding-hot water, it’ll jump out screaming. So would you. But if you put the frog into a bowl of comfortably warm water and then slowly increase the water’s temperature, giving the frog time to adjust to it, it won’t jump out. In fact, it will stay there until it dies from heat prostration.

That’s what they’re doing. We’re the frog and they’re turning up the heat so slowly they hope we won’t notice it until it’s way too late.

Another Turn of the Screw

There is increasing evidence that these various actions are by no means isolated or accidental. Not even a week after Ashcroft’s dictum, George was adding fuel to the fire. From the Atlanta Constitution comes a report on Bush’s demand for broader subpoena power:

President Bush’s plan to boost the power of federal investigators to check out suspected terrorists is stirring new alarm among civil libertarians.

Bush wants to give federal investigators “administrative subpoena” authority to question witnesses and demand records in suspected terrorism cases. A federal investigator could ask an individual to appear for questioning without first consulting an attorney, without the oversight of a grand jury and without a stenographer to record the conversation.

Get what’s going on here? First we centralize the power of Federal prosecutors in the hands of the Justice Dept, then we move to eliminate from the process all the elements which might hamper the broad, unchecked, unquestioned power of the AG to detain, question, even charge anyone he might decide to label a “terrorist”; he doesn’t have to prove his claim in front of a grand jury, and the defendant’s position not only goes unrepresented but there’s no record of the conversation: it’s his word against theirs, and who do you think will win that match-up?

So we’re moving first to control the Federal Judiciary, and then to remove restrictions on its power. Neat, huh? Very slick. This is why the Jimmy Yee case is so troubling. Gitmo is bad enough, but this is a step down: Gitmo involves supposed combatants; Jimmy Yee was a visitor who was arrested, apparently, because he made some sketches of the cells and because he may have talked with someone the Admin thinks may be a spy. And for all these “maybe’s”, they felt perfectly free to arrest Jimmy and throw him in jail–no lawyer, no nothin’. He’s been there 3 or 4 days now, and last I checked they hadn’t charged him with anything! That’s the beauty of Imperial Justice: you can do anything you want to your own citizens and you don’t have to explain anything to anybody if you don’t want to. George likes that part of the job a lot; he said so.

So now we come to the question you’re all no doubt asking yourselves right now:

“Why does this stuff have to mean we’re slouching toward Imperialism? Why isn’t it just the standard, knee-jerk right-wing anal-retentive control-freak piecemeal response to what they perceive as a violent society?”

For one main reason:

Do you think for one second Tom DeLay, or Ashcroft himself for that matter, would sit quietly twiddling their thumbs while Janet Reno turned the Federal Courts into her own private kingdom? They’d be screaming their bloody heads off.

Of course, what is done by one executive order can be undone by another, but even if they assumed a Democratic AG would do that, they have set a precedent now: any future AG, of whichever party, could do the same, and they wouldn’t like it if it was coming from the other side. So why do it?

Because you don’t vote Empires out of office, that’s why. These guys don’t expect to be out of power for a long, long time and they’re setting up the conditions that will make that happen.

Think about it. It’s coming if we don’t stop it.

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