The Rule of Law Is Missing in Action in America -- It's Up to Us to Bring It Back

Human Rights

This week, several rulings on high profile, and not so high profile but also important, cases are expected.  We take a look at the rule of law in this country and wonder if instead we should be putting up “MIA Rule of Law” fliers on lamp posts. Constitutional lawyer Glenn Greenwald says that the judicial system is two-tiered, “one for the ‘haves’ and one for the ‘have-nots.’” The evidence certainly seems to bear that out.

A ruling in the case against George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin is expected next week. The defense made their closing argument today and the prosecution will do so tomorrow. This has been a difficult case for the Martin family and our hearts go out to them. The defense lawyer treated Trayvon’s mother poorly on the witness stand and the prosecution has been thoroughly inept. If Zimmerman is found ‘not guilty’, as is the norm in similar cases, Margaret Kimberley writes that this will be a call to action to end the legal lynchings that are regularly taking place. Groups are calling for national days of action on the day of the decision and the day after if Zimmerman is found not guilty.

Bradley Manning’s case is moving quickly, though few would know that given the dramatic lack of coverage by the mass media of this historic case that will help define freedom of the press in the Internet age of the 21st Century. There is grave concern whether the rule of law will prevail for Manning given the degree of secrecy of court documents and witnesses. The government concluded its arguments last week with powerful testimony about the importance of Wikileaks for democracy, and this week opened with four motions to dismiss by Manning’s lawyer, David Coombs. He has rested his case and the trial resumes on Monday, July 15 with a discussion of a possible rebuttal case by the government. A worldwide day of action is planned for July 27.

Manning, Snowden, Thomas Drake and other whisleblowers are the tip of the iceberg of President Obama’s attack on those who tell the truth. McClatchy has reported on documents that show a broad attack on whistleblowers in the Obama government.  Rather than prosecuting and harassing whistleblowers why isn’t the government investigating the crimes and unethical behavior they disclose?  

In New York City, 14 people are on trial [disclaimer: Margaret Flowers is a defendant] over the First Amendment rights to assemble in a public space and engage in political speech. The 14 were part of a group of 25 people, mostly veterans, who were arrested last October on the 11th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan while reading the names of New Yorkers who died in wars and laying flowers at the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. This could be a landmark case if the judge chooses to apply the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to strengthen the First Amendment.

At the entrance to the New York City Courthouse, the words “Where Law Ends There Tyranny Begins” are inscribed in the marble wall. Our constitutional rights, particularly the first and fourth amendment rights, are disappearing. And the US government and national security state behave as if they are above the law. MIA Rule of Law risks the further division in the United States as the people see no path to justice.

Private corporations contracted by the US government and others are tracking activists by monitoring social media and using geo-location tools. More information is emerging on the Obama administration’s crackdown on whistleblowers by classifying them as ‘aiding the enemy’ and through the ‘insider threat’ program that encourages all government employees to watch for potential leakers. In many states, police are using seatbelt checkpoints to stop cars and search them. Recently in West Virginia, this resulted in 25 people being arrested.

The NSA may be doing much more, another NSA whistleblower, Russell Tice tells Abby Martin on RT’s Breaking the Set, that he saw NSA documents indicating the agency was spying on elected officials, Supreme Court justices and US generals among others.  This spying raises the question, why? Does the NSA use this information to control the government? Is this why the NSA budget is not subject to sequester?

And, the courts go after those who expose the corporate security state.  For example, Barrett Brown, who exposed a plot by the private security firm, HBGary, the corporate law firm for the Chamber of Commerce, Hunton and Williams, to go after activists who challenged the Chamber is facing more than 100 years in jail. (Disclosure Kevin Zeese was one of the activists targeted for his work with But, what about the people planning cyber attacks on activists; planning spying on their families; and sending them false documents to discredit them?  How about the lawyers – do they keep their license to practice law? The rule of law is misapplied to Barrett Brown, while the rich and connected go unchallenged.

This week we learned that Microsoft whose current PR slogan is “Your privacy is our priority,” has been working hand-in-glove with the NSA in a “deep and ongoing” working relationship. Microsoft shows that the corporate-state, the combination of corporations and government, is hard to separate when it comes to invading the privacy of Americans.

Over the July 4th weekend, tens of thousands of people across the country participated in “Restore the Fourth” rallies. Coordinators of the action are hard at work on next steps. And good news arrived this week: the Electronic Frontiers Foundation announced that a federal judge is allowing its case that challenges the FISA court and mass surveillance to proceed. Restore the Fourth is urging people to call Congress today en masse to let them know – it is not over, the people will keep protesting until the Fourth Amendment is restored.

The FISA court is composed of judges who are all appointed by Chief Justice Roberts without Congressional oversight. This is unprecedented when it comes to any other issues being heard in the judicial system. And this court is functioning as a “parallel Supreme Court,” making broad decisions on constitutional rights in secret and in cases in which only one side, the government’s, is presented. The court is rapidly building case law, secret to all of us, that is expanding the government’s right to spy on Americans.

And, it is not only the FISA courts, but in our MIA rule of law nation the courts – with judges who mostly previously were corporate lawyers and prosecutors – sides with the corporations when they want to invade the privacy of Americans.  In a case involving Chevron, a federal court allowed the corporation axis to collect the IP usage records and identity information for email accounts owned by over 100 environmental activists, journalists and attorneys. The corporation is suing alleging that the company was the victim of a conspiracy in the $18.2 billion judgment against it for dumping 18.5 billion gallons of oil waste in the Ecuadorean Amazon.

Revelations by Edward Snowden are beginning to illustrate the extent to which the US engages in spying and data collection both domestically and abroad. And as expected, the mass media is attacking Snowden’s reputation for doing so. Daniel Ellsberg who leaked the Pentagon Papers says that “given the current state of the law,” it is wise for Snowden to stay out of the US so that he can speak freely. And Ellsberg urges us to take this opportunity “to rescue ourselves from out-of-control surveillance that shifts all practical power to the executive branch and its intelligence agencies: a United Stasi of America.” The MIA Rule of Law means the Constitutional protections against searches and seizures is being destroyed, while those who violate it go unpunished.

The US also overstepped its bounds by grounding the Bolivian president’s airplane, an act which is being viewed by Latin American nations as an act of ‘air piracy.’ It was a US ambassador who claimed that Edward Snowden was on the plane. In response, Bolivia is threatening to shut down the US embassy. Can you imagine how much of an uproar there would be if Obama’s plane was grounded by a Latin American country?

Today, Friday July 12th, Edward Snowden will be meeting with Russian human rights advocates to enlist their help in getting him to one of the three countries that have offered him asylum.  In his email to human rights activists he points out the unprecedented effort to prevent him from exercising his right to asylum.

The US is also violating the rule of law by its ongoing abuse of the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. Islamic and other faith leaders are calling for the US to respect Ramadan, a month of fasting, by stopping the horrendous force-feeding of prisoners who are on hunger strike. To demonstrate just how awful force-feeding is, rapper Mos Def allowed himself to be subjected to it on video using the standard procedure of the Guantanamo prison. He was unable to tolerate it and stopped the procedure before it was completed.

Activists in the US continue to pressure Obama to close the prison and release the prisoners. Around a dozen people in the US are fasting in solidarity with the hunger strikers. Veteran Tarak Kauff has been on hunger strike for five weeks. He is asking that more people join him by being willing to engage in direct action to close Guantanamo. The US hunger strikers cannot do this alone.

If the rule of law was not MIA, these prisoners would have been released a long time ago, the courts would have ordered their release unless they were going to be charged with a crime; and the courts would have ordered them to stop the brutal force-feeding of prisoners.  The courts would have ordered that the UN torture investigator be allowed an official visit to the prison camp and if laws had been violated the people who did so would have been held accountable, but the Rule of Law is MIA.

Prisoners in Pelican Bay are on a mass hunger strike again to protest solitary confinement and other policies at the prison. More than 30,000 prisoners launched the hunger strike on Monday. Some of them are willing to ‘go all of the way’ with the strike because they say they feel like they are “buried alive” by long-term solitary confinement which is considered to be a form of torture. A support rally is planned for July 13.

When it comes to the rule of law, another growing concern is the treatment of environmental activists. Around the world, the number of environmental activists who are being killed has nearly tripled to the rate of one each week. And it was discovered this week that a mining firm in a small town in Wisconsin hired paramilitary guards to provide security as they fear public reaction to strip mining that will endanger water. Activists alerted state legislators who have since written a letter to the head of the company requesting that he remove the guards. And it was revealed this week that the contractor hired by the state department to perform the environmental impact statement on the Keystone XL pipeline lied about its ties to over a dozen companies involved in the Alberta Tar Sands, including TransCanada. Will the rule of law be applied to this dishonest corporation?

Not only do multi-national corporations like TransCanada influence our government agencies, they are also pushing for greater corporate rights, including the right to sue governments for loss of expected profits from environmental, labor and consumer protection laws through the TransPacific Partnership (TPP) and its sister the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Nobel laureate and economist Joseph Stiglitz calls them a “Free Trade Charade.” We launched the campaign to stop the TPP last week and hundreds are signing on. You can take the pledge at  We can stop the TPP if activists join in solidarity to do so.

More people are realizing that the rule of law has disappeared in the US and tyranny of the corporate-state has begun. At the same time, more groups of people are pushing back against it. And some are winning. A US judge ordered the Department of Justice to release its files on Aaron Swartz. A hearing is scheduled for July 24 in Congress on the closure of Guantanamo Bay. And the DC Council recently stood up to Walmart by demanding a living wage, even though Walmart threatened to leave the city if they did that. And Occupy Oakland activists won a $1.7 million settlement in litigation against the Oakland Police for their violence against occupiers.

And, people in the United States are beginning to unite across political boundaries to challenge the gravest international crime – war.  The US government is escalating its militarization in Syria.  Has the UN authorized this?  Has Congress?  No. This makes such activity a violation of international law, but the rule of law is MIA.

We are in an age of global revolution and people realize the people must organize for power, a lesson being learned in Egypt. Andrew O’Heir writes that “historians of the future – assuming there are any – may well compare our era to the great wave of social and political revolutions that transformed Europe in the middle of the 19th century, and ultimately led to the sweeping away of the old aristocratic order.” And citing the reactionary responses to the current crises, Bini Adamczak writes “The democratic revolutions therefore must put an end to evil and prevent the worst.”

Democracy movements are growing globally and taking hold within the US. More communities are embracing organization from the ground up that is based on community and human rights. To learn more about the democratization of our institutions, you can attend the second national Democracy Convention in Madison, WI next month. We are organizing the economic democracy track. Register at

The good news is that the more the state over reaches, the more people from all walks of life are motivated to work together and to push back.  The Popular Resistance is growing as more people see the system-wide corruption of government institutions and big business interests.  People are learning that building a mass movement is the only path to change; and more people are taking that lesson to heart and becoming active.

This article is produced by in conjunction with AlterNet.  It is based on’s weekly newsletter reviewing the activities of the resistance movement.

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