Saturday, November 08, 2008

Rule of Law, Please

Having been exposed to injustices that have deeply shocked me lately, I came across the account of deeper and more ingrained corruption that have been desperately fought in our neighbor, Mexico. The account was tragically contained in a memorial written to honor prosecutor José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, who fought against the deep corruption that drug wars occasioned in that country as well as the drug war itself. He died in a flaming crash over Mexico City on Tuesday night while we were living through the magic of our election here.

While I have been attending a trial of the Holy Land Foundation in federal court in Dallas, appalled by the 'through the looking glass' nature of the prosecutors' presentation of what should be facts, this article has reminded me of how dangerous it is to allow corruption of our judicial system and its operation. As I have mentioned before, I grew up with the comfort of respect for my country, and allegiance to our much-revered Rule of Law. Seeing that noble institution thrown down by the occupants of the White House has been deeply horrifying to me. I had never thought that our country could so easily have its highest institutions debased.

What has gone on in our Department of Justice by politicizing it has presaged what has happened in Latin America during past decade. In that banana republic past, corruption perpetuated insular ruling classes who opposed public interests. Presently, an upsurge in popular government has combated that past. In our neighbor Mexico, the drug wars have been terrible, and corruption deeply invasive. A dedicated officer of justice died Tuesday night, and I want readers to be aware of the horrors we may avoid by cleaning up our own justice system now.

Vasconcelos, for years the nation's top organized crime prosecutor, has barely been mentioned. Though he held one of the world's most dangerous jobs, or perhaps because of it, he worked largely out of the spotlight.

"He was not out there making a name for himself," said Joe Bond, a top Drug Enforcement Administration agent who was posted in Mexico and worked closely with Vasconcelos. "He always took second seat, even though he was the main guy leading the war on drugs."

Vasconcelos was a prime target for drug-cartel hit men, and he received many death threats. Last January, Mexican police arrested three men with assault rifles and grenade launchers on charges that they were plotting to kill him. He, his wife and two grown children lived with suffocating security around the clock.

"It was a miserable life for him and his whole family," Bond said. "But he was very focused on doing his job. For us, he was always the guy to go to."
He spoke of his hopes for his children and his country. He wished for a Mexico free from the gruesome violence, which has only gotten worse lately: Yet another headless corpse was suspended from a bridge in Ciudad Juarez this week.

He feared that Mexico could become like Colombia, where drug traffickers in the 1980s nearly took over the country. Unless the traffickers were defeated, he said, "our children are going to be suffering tomorrow."

He worked in dim light; perhaps it was more soothing than the usual harsh fluorescent lights of bureaucracy. During that first interview, two small sticks of Japanese incense burned on a table near his desk, which was piled high with indictment papers for alleged assassins and drug traffickers.

Though he lamented America's demand for drugs, and the fact that drug cartels bought most of their guns north of the border, Vasconcelos didn't blame anyone but Mexico for Mexico's problems.

He railed about corrupt police officers, whom he called "criminals dressed as public servants," and was angry about how deeply the drug cartels had penetrated his government.

I grew up, as I said, sure of our country's being above all this corruption. As I watch it play out in a form I never imagined would happen here, I am daily realizing that it's too easy to avoid taking action before it's too late.

The cleanup now going on in our Dallas judicial system, that has uncovered convictions that are now being overturned by DNA evidence, is timely. We are too late to avoid injustices that have probably caused executions based on wrongful convictions. We are called on to stop corruption now. The cost to society of disregarding the Rule of Law is easy to see. It has been happening right next door, and has on occasion eaten its way through the delicate fabric of our own justice system. Its pursuit of 'Terrorists' has been the basis for many miscarriages of what should have been justice. In its Gitmo perversion of justice, inmates who have never been charged, six Algerian prisoners, are now suing to be released from that infamous galag.

A wink at justice exposes us all to dangers we never want to face. Fighting its way back from corruption of our judicial system is something we must not visit on our society. Heroes should have better conditions and higher purposes than the violent battles against crime that Vasconcelos lost his life to achieve.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here, while the principle is under constant "public outcry fueled" (pun intended) erosion too, it is still regarded to better have ten criminals walk free than one innocent behind bars (we have no capital punishment).

It is fundamental to avoid a slow but certain decline away from freedom and democracy.

5:11 AM  
Blogger Ruth said...

When I see how desperate the situation can get when justice isn't strongly protected, I realize how much we stand to lose. Already, the U.S. has lost respect in the civilized world, which won't be regained easily.

6:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rule of Law is great when the laws are great. I grew up during a time when there were lots of crappy laws, like miscegenation statues, many of which, like the marijuana possession prison terms, still exist.

So I'm a little less inclined to include that phrase in my thinking.

In my area, a relentless newspaper reporter has spent years revisiting old murder convictions and overturning a bunch of them---always poor people, often black, usually caused by prosecution witnesses' (state employees!) lies.

9:39 AM  

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