Monday, September 19, 2005

Department of Injustice vs. Political Opposition

There is no justice when the Justice Department decides to use its powers to target organizations based solely on the criteria that they are politically opposed to the administration.

According to news reports, a Senate committee asked the Justice Department to contact U.S. Attorneys to report on any lawsuits filed by environmental groups that may have hindered levee construction around New Orleans.

In doing this, the Senate committee has asked, and the Justice Department has agreed to unfairly and unjustly target political opponents in the investigation of what happened in New Orleans as a result of Hurricane Katrina. The people behind this request have tossed aside basic principles of fairness, decency, and ethics, in an effort to score political points.

The IT Analogy

Imagine that you work for a large company where it is important that the computers keep running through the weekend. To facilitate this, the IT Department assigns an emergency pager to some employee each Friday. That employee is responsible for handling all weekend emergency calls.

George has the pager on a particular weekend. The computers crash at noon on Sunday. People call the emergency pager, but nobody answers. It is not until 4:00 in the afternoon that somebody finally hears from George. George then goes to work solving the problem.

This has created serious problems for the company. Failure to meet contractual deadlines will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. On Monday, word goes around that the Executive Committee wants to know what happened.

Then, you discover that George has sent out an email to a few trusted friends. Everybody knows that George and Al have never liked each other. The email that George writes to his friends asks, "Can any of you think of anything that Al might have done that could have contributed to the server failure this weekend?"

What does this tell us about George's moral character?

The Red Herring

The question of what caused the servers to fail and what caused George to fail to answer the pager for four hours are separate questions. Sure, we want to know why the server failed, and we want to know if Al or anybody else contributed to that failure.

However, we need to look at the fact that it took George four hours to answer the pager after the servers did fail. Even if we discover that the servers failed, and Al was in some way responsible for that, Al was not responsible for the fact that George disappeared for four hours.

To make the analogy more complete, we need to report that George was also given a four hour warning that there would be an event at noon that could cause server failure. In addition, he held a conference call at 11:00 to discuss the noon event. During that call, a contractors aid, "I cannot emphasize this enough. The servers are going to fail to some extent at noon, and we might be suffering total server failure."

At noon, the predicted event occurred. The servers failed. And George was nowhere to be found until 4:00 in the afternoon.

After George finally showed up, one of the first things he said was, "I don't think anybody could have anticipated a server failure."

Any action that Al might have taken, and any effect that he might have had on the servers, does not change the fact that George abdicated his responsibility.

Now, you discover that George is sending out an email asking people for information on what Al might have done to cause to the server failure.

What type of person is this?

We can go further. It is quite likely, if something is found, that George and his friends will begin filling the email system and every conversation with "news" about Al's contribution to the server failure.

Their goal is to make so much noise that nobody gets to talk about the fact that George was missing for four hours. If George and his friends can keep people from talking about it, maybe George can get away with his dereliction of duty.

Again, what does this tell us about the moral values of George and his friends?

Why Al?

Why does the email only mention Al?

There should be an investigation into what caused the server to crash. However, that investigation should not be a witch hunt concerned with only finding things that Al might have done. The Executive Committee needs to make sure to demand a fair and impartial investigation into what happened.

The very fact that George is out there trying to use this to gain ammunition against Al needs to be accepted as a black mark against George. The Executive Committee needs to investigate whether they want employees like George working in this company.

Any morally sensitive person would be outraged at George's attempt to finding reasons to blame Al. George's single-minded determination to single out Al is unfair, unjust, and entirely behavior.

By his actions, George has proved himself to have more interest in his own welfare than in justice.

In the real world case, the situation is made even more morally repugnant by the fact that the Senate committee is using the Justice Department as an instrument of injustice. When the Justice Department accepts this type of request, it is agreeing to become an instrument of political persecution. In place of a Justice Department whose mission is to uphold and defend justice, we have a political weapons department whose job is to uphold and defend the Republican Party.

This is a complete corruption of what the Justice Department is supposed to be doing. They are supposed to be pursuing justice, not the Administration's political opponents.


There is one additional fact that needs to be brought into this discussion.

The head of the Justice Department, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, is rumored to be on the short list of people to replace Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court.

If Gonzales sees nothing wrong with turning the Justice Department into an agency that devotes its energies to targeting and prosecuting those who would stand against the Republican Party, then we need to wonder if he would turn the Supreme Court of the United States to target those who would oppose a Republican government as well.

If the Justice Department had sent out a request saying that they want to know about all lawsuits that affected the construction of the levees – including, perhaps, those launched by oil companies fighting to protect their profits – he would have at least preserved the illusion of impartiality. However, unless he can come up with a reasonable explanation for this memo, he has proved that he has no interest in Justice, where he sees an opportunity for injustice to advance the aims of his Party.

This is not the type of person to sit on the Supreme Court.

It is not even the type of person who should be sitting in the Justice Department.

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