Glenn Greenwald: Woman Imprisoned for Life for Minor Drug Offense; Banking Giant Immune to Justice for Massive Drug Laundering
Continued from previous page
That's not merely a dark day for the rule of law. It's a wholesale repudiation of it. The US government is expressly saying that banking giants reside outside of - above - the rule of law, that they will not be punished when they get caught red-handed committing criminal offenses for which ordinary people are imprisoned for decades. Aside from the grotesque injustice, the signal it sends is as clear as it is destructive: you are free to commit whatever crimes you want without fear of prosecution. And obviously, if the US government would not prosecute these banks on the ground that they're too big and important, it would - yet again, or rather still - never let them fail.
But this case is the opposite of an anomaly. That the most powerful actors should be immunized from the rule of law - not merely treated better, but fully immunized - is a constant, widely affirmed precept in US justice. It's applied to powerful political and private sector actors alike. Over the past four years, the CIA and NSA have received the same gift, as have top Executive Branch officials, as has the telecom industry, as has most of the banking industry. This is how I described it in "With Liberty and Justice for Some":
"To hear our politicians and our press tell it, the conclusion is inescapable: we're far better off when political and financial elites - and they alone - are shielded from criminal accountability.
"It has become a virtual consensus among the elites that their members are so indispensable to the running of American society that vesting them with immunity from prosecution - even for the most egregious crimes - is not only in their interest but in our interest, too. Prosecutions, courtrooms, and prisons, it's hinted - and sometimes even explicitly stated - are for the rabble, like the street-side drug peddlers we occasionally glimpse from our car windows, not for the political and financial leaders who manage our nation and fuel our prosperity.
"It is simply too disruptive, distracting, and unjust, we are told, to subject them to the burden of legal consequences."
That is precisely the rationale explicitly invoked by DOJ officials to justify their decision to protect HSBC from criminal accountability. These are the same officials who previously immunized Bush-era torturers and warrantless eavesdroppers, telecom giants, and Wall Street executives, even as they continue to persecute whistleblowers at record rates and prosecute ordinary citizens - particularly poor and minorities - with extreme harshness even for trivial offenses. The administration that now offers the excuse that HSBC is too big to prosecute is the same one that quite consciously refused to attempt to break up these banks in the aftermath of the "too-big-to-fail" crisis of 2008, as former TARP overseer Neil Barofsky, among others, has spent years arguing.
And, of course, these HSBC-protectors in the Obama DOJ are the same officials responsible for maintaining and expanding what NYT Editorial Page editor Andrew Rosenthal has accurately described as "essentially a separate justice system for Muslims," one in which "the principle of due process is twisted and selectively applied, if it is applied at all." What has been created is not so much a "two-tiered justice system" as a multi-tiered one, entirely dependent on the identity of the alleged offender rather than the crimes of which they are accused.
Having different "justice systems" for citizens based on their status, wealth, power and prestige is exactly what the US founders argued most strenuously had to be avoided (even as they themselves maintained exactly such a system). But here we have in undeniable clarity not merely proof of exactly how this system functions, but also the rotted and fundamentally corrupt precept on which it's based: that some actors are simply too important and too powerful to punish criminally. As the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz warned in 2010, exempting the largest banks from criminal prosecution has meant that lawlessness and "venality" is now "at a higher level" in the US even than that which prevailed in the pervasively corrupt and lawless privatizing era in Russia.