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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Justice is in the eye of Eric Holder

by digby

Edward Snowden took questions earlier today. Here's a sample of his traitorous thinking:
Q: What (in your opinion) is the appropriate extent of US national security apparatus? Surely some spying is needed?

SNOWDEN: Not all spying is bad. The biggest problem we face right now is the new technique of indiscriminate mass surveillance, where governments are seizing billions and billions and billions of innocents’ communication every single day. This is done not because it’s necessary — after all, these programs are unprecedented in US history, and were begun in response to a threat that kills fewer Americans every year than bathtub falls and police officers — but because new technologies make it easy and cheap.

I think a person should be able to dial a number, make a purchase, send an SMS, write an email, or visit a website without having to think about what it’s going to look like on their permanent record. Particularly when we now have courts, reports from the federal government, and even statements from Congress making it clear these programs haven’t made us any more safe, we need to push back.

This is a global problem, and America needs to take the lead in fixing it. If our government decides our Constitution’s 4th Amendment prohibition against unreasonable seizures no longer applies simply because that’s a more efficient means of snooping, we’re setting a precedent that immunizes the government of every two-bit dictator to perform the same kind of indiscriminate, dragnet surveillance of entire populations that the NSA is doing.

It’s not good for our country, it’s not good for the world, and I wasn’t going to stand by and watch it happen, no matter how much it cost me. The NSA and the rest of the US Intelligence Community is exceptionally well positioned to meet our intelligence requirements through targeted surveillance — the same way we’ve always done it — without resorting to the mass surveillance of entire populations.

When we’re sophisticated enough to be able to break into any device in the world we want to (up to and including Angela Merkel’s phone, if reports are to be believed), there’s no excuse to wasting our time collecting the call records of grandmothers in Missouri.
Way to shred the constitution there, Trotsky.

The good news is that Attorney General Eric Holder reiterated today that just because we are now having this overdue and necessary reevaluation of our secret surveillance programs as a result of Snowden's revelations, it does not mean he should not be held criminally liable. After all, what would happen if people could just break the law and violate the constitution with impunity?

I guess reporters had no time to follow up with the Attorney General about why he feels so adamant about punishment of this particular "crime" when the wealthy criminals who crashed the global financial system are still free and living like kings and the sadists who violated the law and the constitution with torture and indefinite detention are walking around with impunity.

If I recall correctly, the original rationale for not pursuing the torturers was this:
"This is a time for reflection, not retribution. I respect the strong views and emotions that these issues evoke. We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past."
And the financial markets are very fragile creatures, so holding our Master of the Universe liable for their crimes would be unwise:
According to three people briefed at the time about the meeting, Mr. Geithner expressed concern about the fragility of the financial system. His worry, according to these people, sprang from a desire to calm markets, a goal that could be complicated by a hard-charging attorney general.

Several years after the financial crisis, which was caused in large part by reckless lending and excessive risk taking by major financial institutions, no senior executives have been charged or imprisoned, and a collective government effort has not emerged. This stands in stark contrast to the failure of many savings and loan institutions in the late 1980s. In the wake of that debacle, special government task forces referred 1,100 cases to prosecutors, resulting in more than 800 bank officials going to jail. Among the best-known: Charles H. Keating Jr., of Lincoln Savings and Loan in Arizona, and David Paul, of Centrust Bank in Florida.
It's interesting how forgiving government officials can be when it suits them, isn't it?

In the case of torture, the government decided they needed to balance out the obvious immorality and unconstitutionality of torture with the morale of the operatives who carried it out and the "good faith" of the sadists who designed the policy and legalized it in secret. The case of the Masters of the Universe was "complicated" and might hinder the recovery to hold any of the big players responsible for the widespread misery they caused. The greater good demanded that we not look in the rearview mirror.

But for some reason, despite the fact that everyone from the president on down acknowledges that the revelations about the NSA programs have spurred a vital conversation and much needed reforms, there can be no thought of treating Snowden like a whistleblower instead of a criminal. But then, he didn't torture anyone or order the torture of anyone and he didn't bring down the global financial system and destroy the economic security of millions of people. In fact, nobody can point to anything but "embarrassment" as the damage his leaks have caused.

So I guess we know now where they draw the line. Torture, indefinite imprisonment and economic chaos are one thing. But having to put up with Angela Merkel's temper will not stand. Being forced to admit that these programs have gotten out of hand is humiliating for an exceptional country like ours.  Having a bright light shining on extremely expensive secret government activity that doesn't seem to be producing any results is mortifying, especially to those who have been charge with overseeing these programs and obviously haven't got a clue. The world thinks we're perfect and any evidence to the contrary will irreparably weaken us.

But the opposite is true. Nobody thinks we're perfect. And a hugely powerful nation like the United States is far stronger if it is able to face its mistakes, punish those who perpetrate them and forgive those who reveal them. This mishmash of injustice, hypocrisy, favoritism and, frankly, rank immorality we've seen escalating since 9/11 is weakening us far more than any power point chart Edward Snowden leaked to the newspapers.

Update: here's another example of Snowden's irrational point of view:

“Intelligence agencies do have a role to play, and the people at the working level at the NSA, CIA, or any other member of the IC are not out to get you. They’re good people trying to do the right thing, and I can tell you from personal experience that they were worried about the same things I was.

The people you need to watch out for are the unaccountable senior officials authorizing these unconstitutional programs, and unreliable mechanisms like the secret FISA court, a rubber-stamp authority that approves 99.97% of government requests (which denied only 11 requests out of 33,900 in 33 years). They’re the ones that get us into trouble with the Constitution by letting us go too far.”

Update II: According to this, Holder indicated today that he might consider a plea deal of some sort. Very interesting. Perhaps the fact that Snowden is exiled while John Yoo roams free teaching his law students that torture is legal feels a bit uncomfortable.