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Since the early days of our republic, the Attorney General (AG) of the United States has served as the chief lawyer for the government, entrusted with ensuring that the nation’s laws are faithfully carried out and holding government officials accountable to abiding by their oaths of office to "uphold and defend the Constitution."
Unfortunately, far from holding government officials accountable to abiding by the rule of law, the attorneys general of each successive administration have increasingly aided and abetted the Executive Branch in skirting and, more often than not, flouting the law altogether, justifying all manner of civil liberties and human rights violations and trampling the Constitution in the process, particularly the Fourth Amendment.
No better example is there of the perversion of the office of the AG than its current occupant Eric Holder, who was appointed by President Obama in 2009. Hailed by civil liberties and watchdog groups alike for his pledge to "reverse the disastrous course that we have been on over the past few years" and usher in a new era of civil liberties under Obama, Holder has instead carried on the sorry tradition of his predecessors, going to great lengths to "justify" egregious government actions that can only be described as immoral, unjust and illegal.
The following are just some of the highlights of the dangerous philosophies embraced and advanced by Holder and his Justice Department.
The military can detain anyone, including American citizens, it deems a threat to the country. Not only has the DOJ persisted in defending a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act that sanctions indefinite detentions of Americans, but it has also blasted the federal judge who ruled the NDAA to be vague and chilling as overstepping the court’s authority and infringing on Obama’s power to act as Commander in Chief.
Presidential kill lists and drone killings are fine as long as the president thinks someone might have terrorist connections. Holder has gone to great lengths to defend Obama’s use of drones to target and kill American citizens, even on U.S. soil, as legally justifiable. In fact, a leaked DOJ memo suggests that the President has the power to murder any American citizen the world over, so long as he has a feeling that they might, at some point in the future, pose a threat to the United States.
The federal government has the right to seize the private property – cash, real estate, cars and other assets – of those suspected of being "connected" to criminal activity, whether or not the suspect is actually guilty. The government actually collects billions of dollars every year through this asset-forfeiture system, which it frequently divvies up with local law enforcement officials, a practice fully supported by the DOJ.
Warrantless electronic surveillance of Americans’ telephone, email and Facebook accounts is not only permissible but legal. According to court documents, more Americans have had their electronic communications spied on as a result of DOJ orders for phone, email and Internet information – 40,000 people alone in 2011 – and that doesn’t even begin to take into account agencies outside Holder’s purview, terrorism investigations or requests by state and local law enforcement officials.
Due process and judicial process are not the same. In one of his earliest attempts to justify targeted assassinations of American citizens by the president, Holder declared in a March 5, 2012 speech at the Northwestern University School of Law that "The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process." What Holder was attempting to suggest is that the Fifth Amendment’s assurance that "No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law" does not necessarily involve having one’s day in court and all that that entails – it simply means that someone, the president for example, should review and be satisfied by the facts before ordering someone’s death.
Government whistleblowers will be bankrupted, blacklisted, blackballed and in some cases banished. As AG, Holder has reportedly prosecuted more government officials for alleged leaks than all his predecessors combined. Relying on the World War I-era Espionage Act, the DOJ has launched an all-out campaign to roust out, prosecute, and imprison government whistleblowers for exposing government corruption, incompetence, and greed.
Government transparency is important unless government officials are busy, can stonewall, redact, obfuscate or lie about the details, are able to make the case that they are exempt from disclosure or that it interferes with national security. As Slate reports, "President Obama promised transparency and open government. He failed miserably." Not only has Holder proven to be far less transparent than any of his predecessors, however, but his DOJ has done everything in its power to block access to information.
When it comes to Wall Street, justice is not blind. As revealed in a PBS Frontline report, the Obama administration has driven federal prosecutions of financial crimes down to a two-decade low, buoyed in its blindness to corporate corruption by campaign donations from Wall Street banks (whom Holder has determined are too big to prosecute anyhow) and staffers whose lucrative financial portfolios came about as a result of chummy relationships with financiers.
Not all suspects should have the right to remain silent. In 2010, Holder began floating the idea that Miranda rights – which require that a suspect be informed of his right to remain silent – should be modified depending on the circumstances. Curiously, the Supreme Court is presently reviewing a case addressing a similar question, namely whether a suspect’s silence equates to an admission of guilt.
Clearly, it’s not the Constitution that Eric Holder is safeguarding but the power of the presidency. Without a doubt, Holder has taken as his mantra Nixon’s mantra that "When the President does it, that means it is not illegal." It may be that the time has come to create a "non-political" and "independent" Attorney General, one who would serve the interests of the public by upholding the rule of law rather than justifying the whims of the President.