SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
“Which brings us to that troubling question: who can be entrusted with power? Who will guard the guardians themselves?” That was Juvenal’s question put to a proponent of the Socratic notion of the Philosopher-King (Satires 6: 347).
In our democracy, we have several institutional guardians of the powerful. One is the Department of Justice, with its service of detached, professional U.S. attorneys, sworn to uphold the law and eschew even the outward appearance of politics as they discharge their duties. And another is the inspectors general sprinkled throughout the Washington bureaucracy—designed to look into accusations of wrong-doing, and to test the complaints of whistleblowers.
So how do the guardians fare in the reign of Bush? As for the U.S. attorneys, alas, that sordid tale is playing itself out in the headlines and at present there is no early prospect of it coming to an end. To the contrary, the posture of the Bush Administration is entrenched—we did nothing wrong; we have a right to place the nation’s prosecutorial service under the control of Karl Rove and use it as a tool to advance the position of the Republican Party.
So what about the inspectors general? I observed some time back that under the Bush Administration, there had been a practice from almost the start of appointing only the most dedicated political hacks to the inspectors general offices. By and large the appointees are short on credentials or experience as prosecutors, forensic accountants, or investigators and very long on credentials for in-the-trenches partisan warfare. And how do they interact with whistleblowers? I had some first hand experience early on observing that process. In general, they work overtime to harass and discredit any whistleblower. Rather than examine the information the whistleblower turns over and follow-up to see if the problem is real and how serious it is, they generally start going after the whistleblower with tongs and hammer. His confidences are quickly exposed, and his character is quickly impugned. The message which is send couldn’t be simpler: sound an alarm, and your career is finished.
And now it turns out that the Bush inspectors general are in a lot of hot water themselves. ABC’s Brian Ross reports:
Four of the federal government’s top watchdogs have found themselves under investigation recently, a trend experts call unprecedented and troubling.The men are inspectors general, known in Beltway parlance as “IGs”–special senior political appointees who serve at each federal agency to expose and remedy instances of government waste, fraud and abuse.
Instead, they have found themselves facing investigations into allegations including fraud, wasteful spending and abuse of power. Four IGs under simultaneous investigation “would be a record,” confirmed Paul Light, a professor of government at New York University who wrote the definitive tome on the role and history of inspectors general. “They’re supposed to be a bulwark against this stuff.”
Ah, but this is Bushworld, where inspectors general exist not to root out fraud and corruption, but to introduce it and to cover it up when others do it.
And for coverage of the corruption scandal swirling around Stuart Bowen, the Special IG for Iraq Reconstruction, keep your eyes on this website, and particular Ken Silverstein’s Washington Babylon. From what I hear, this story has only just begun to break.
More from Scott Horton:
Conversation — March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm
Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.
I sat in a taxi with Emma and her son, Stak, all three bodies muscled into the rear seat, and the boy checked the driver’s I.D. and immediately began to speak to the man in an unrecognizable language.
I conferred quietly with Emma, who said he was studying Pashto, privately, in his spare time. Afghani, she said, to enlighten me further.
Age at death last March of the sturgeon Nikita, Khrushchev’s gift to Norway, after an accidental immersion in salt water:
There were new reports of cannibalism in North Korea.
The Finnish postal service announced it will begin mowing lawns on Tuesdays.
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
“Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'”