February 26, 2008

Karl Rove's Political Prisoner

Last month, I wrote a post entitled Lessons from Nicaragua that examined the case of Eric Volz, an American entrepreneur who was railroaded into a Central American prison sentence on a trumped-up murder charge. Mr. Volz was eventually released, but only after a group of appeals judges stood up for the rule of law. While Mr. Volz is now back in the United States - unable to clear his name in Nicaragua - those same judges have faced death threats and the promise of intervention from authoritarian elements in the Nicaraguan federal government.

Despite the opinions of several blog trolls, the central theme of that post was clearly not to blame President Bush for Eric Volz's problems, but rather to point out what can - and does - happen to people in countries where the judicial system has been compromised by political influence and equality before the law does not exist. As I wrote in January:

... Far from being merely an exceptionally sordid episode of Third World corruption, however, the Volz case should serve as an object lesson in the perils of subverting the justice system of any country. Without the rule of law, convictions and prosecutions can be bought and sold, and naked political ambition given a veneer of legitimacy through apparent judicial approval, however flawed.

But is this a lesson we should take to heart in the
United States? Without question. One need only look at the presidential pardon of Scooter Libby, the Bush Administration's politicization of the Justice Department, the non-prosecution of crimes committed by military contractors, the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, or even he failure of the legislature to pursue impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney to see why.

On Sunday, CBS's 60 Minutes broadcast a story on former Alabama governor Don Siegelman that shockingly illustrates the fact that political imprisonment has taken root here in the United States. Mr. Siegelman was the most successful Democrat in a Republican state, but during the time he was governor, the U.S. Department of Justice repeatedly investigated him for years at a time, until finally, he was convicted of bribery. Today however, members of both political parties are expressing strong reservations about the motivations and methods underlying the investigation and prosecution of Don Siegelman by the Justice Department. A whistle-blower has testifed under oath that former Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove was behind efforts to remove the former governor from the political playing field; fifty-two former state attorneys-general have asked Congress to investigate whether charges against Siegelman were pursued not because of a crime, but because of politics; and today, in the wake of the 60 Minutes report, Mr. Siegelman's attorneys have requested the appointment of a special prosecutor to look into the apparent suppression of evidence by the prosecution.

Further roiling the clouds surrounding this case are new reports that Dana Simpson, the attorney who testified against Mr. Rove, has been the subject of smear campaigns by the state Republican party, and that the 60 Minutes segment on Governor Siegelman - and only that segment of the program - was blacked out during broadcast in much of Alabama, supposedly due to a technical problem that no one can substantiate. (The local affiliate is owned by an active G.O.P. supporter.) Prior to her testimony, Ms. Simpson's house was burned down and her car forced off the road by another driver, leading her to state with apparent justification, "I don't feel safe." Nonetheless, Ms. Simpson continues to rightly point out that she spoke to Congress under oath, but that Mr. Rove couldn't even be bothered to appear, and is now in contempt of Congress.

To be blunt, while nothing has yet been proven, there is every indication that Mr. Siegelman is in jail because he is a Democrat who could not be unseated by the Republican Party in Alabama using legitimate means. There is also every sign of prosecutorial misconduct, direct involvement from the White House, and the further disintegration of the American rule of law. And while George W. Bush cannot be blamed for the tribulations of Eric Volz, he can most certainly be blamed for the trials of Don Siegelman.

The video of the 60 Minutes segment on Don Siegelman is below:

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