Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The shame of democracies

(Readers should note that a slightly different version of this posting appeared in the July 11, 2007, editition of the Taipei Times under the title "Conduct unbecoming the self-proclaimed exporter of democracy," which can be accessed by clicking here.)

If anyone who despises the George W. Bush clique ever needed additional ammunition, it was provided over the past two days with two more examples supporting the argument that in the United States today there are two classes of people: the unaccountable Bushites and the rest.

While countless individuals have been wasting away in jail on suspicions of "terrorist" activity that, if carefully looked at, would not hold water — people whose religion and skin color happen, not by coincidence, to differ from those of white Anglo-Saxons — others, like former World Bank chief and co-architect of the 2003 invasion of Iraq Paul Wolfowitz, whose abuse of authority at the World Bank led to his forced resignation, and I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, US Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, seem to be regulated by a different set of laws.

Wolfowitz, who before his appointment at the World Bank was the second-ranking official at the Pentagon, will now be visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based conservative think-tank whose views on the Middle East and the use of force very much reflect those of the Bush administration. Frequent readers of The Far-Eastern Sweet Potato should by now be familiar with my low opinion of that institution. Odd though his World Bank appointment may have seemed, Wolfowitz will now once again find himself among like-minded people, where he will be able to do the greatest damage.

As for Libby, the Cheney aide who was implicated in the “Plamegate” scandal, in which in retaliation for Joseph Wilson’s accusations that Washington was misleading the world during the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame (Wilson’s wife) was leaked to the press by the White House, for all intents and purposes ending her career as a covert operative — he, too, has been touched by the hand of injustice. Libby, on the brink of serving a 30-month prison sentence and having lost his appeal to delay the sentence, saw President Bush commute his prison sentence, on the premise that it was “too harsh.” But this wasn’t a pardon, Bush said, as Libby remains “on parole” and will still have to pay a US$250,000 fine for lying and obstruction of justice.

“Libby’s conviction,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, “was the one faint glimmer of accountability for White House efforts to manipulate intelligence and silence critics of the Iraq war.”

“Now, even that small bit of justice has been undone.”

With Libby’s contacts in Washington and his “damaged” reputation notwithstanding, it shouldn’t be too long before he, like Wolfowitz, lands a job — likely as a visiting scholar — somewhere. In fact, I would be surprised if he didn’t. After all, the like-minded stick together, right? Regarding his fine, given that, as Media Transparency (www.mediatransparency.org) shows, the salary range for scholars at AEI, for example, ranges from about US$60,000 a year for virtually unknown researchers to US$200,000 a year for better known ones (the median appears to be US$150,000), that US$250,000 fine suddenly doesn’t seem too formidable.

Would the poor recently landed Ahmed, or the hard-working Carlos, ever be extended that hand of justice? Of course not. What is 2.5 years in jail for a faceless immigrant — even when the charges against him are laughable? But for a ranking official in the US administration? Oh my, 30 months is unconscionably long. After serving their sentence, the Ahmeds and Carloses will be deported and likely fail more imprisonment, if not torture. For the "whites," however, what awaits them are lucrative jobs in comfortable think-tanks in Washington. How just.

Colonialism of the most despicable kind — that based on racism — dear readers, is alive and well.

These, sadly, are not isolated case and US history is replete with similar examples of high-level pardons, commutations and exonerations. Nor is the US alone in this. But this, a legal system that rides roughshod on the general population — and does especially so when it comes to certain groups of people — but spares, if not compensates, crooks, certainly isn’t something supposed healthy democracy should be proud of.

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