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Today forty-four attorneys general from forty of the fifty states of the Union petition the United States Congress [PDF] demanding a formal inquiry into the prosecution of Don Siegelman, the former Governor of Alabama, who was falsely charged, tried and convicted in federal court proceedings in Alabama. These proceedings constitute an indelible stain on the reputation of our nation for justice, which cannot be purged until they are set aside and those who committed these crimes mockingly in the name of justice are held to account for their misconduct.
A Shocking Miscarriage of Justice
The forty-four attorneys general, Democrats and Republicans alike, drawn from across the country point to these badges of injustice in the Siegelman case (my comments in italics):
(1) Governor Siegelman is currently incarcerated at a Bureau of Prisons facility, having been refused release on bail pending appeal. Indeed, he was even denied 45 days to report to prison to give him time to put his affairs in order, an opportunity which is commonly granted. This can only be understood in terms of the political theater orchestrated by the Bush Justice Department and the judge hearing the case, a Republican political activist.
(2) A lawyer who had worked in the campaign of Governor Siegelman’s opponent in the 2006 gubernatorial contest has sworn in a recent affidavit that the spouse of the federal prosecutor in this case stated that his wife and another federal prosecutor would “take care of” Mr. Siegelman and that he had talked with a political operative for the White House concerning such assurances. The name of the political operative is Karl Rove, and the political manipulation of prosecutions to “take care” of political adversaries is his calling card.
(3) In an unrelated but recent case, a low-level employee in another state administration was prosecuted and convicted by another U.S. Attorney before a U.S. Court of Appeals ordered her immediate release from prison and reversed the trial verdict calling the prosecution evidence “beyond thin.”
(4) Another former Governor of Alabama was convicted of corruption charges a few years ago in a case where he personally benefited from his action and was sentenced to probation. That case was handled by the same lead prosecutor as in the Siegelman case. There is a striking difference: the former governor actually secured personal gain from the alleged corruption, Siegelman did not—even accepting the allegations of the prosecution as true, but they are not. How to distinguish these two cases? One involves a Republican, the other a Democrat. This is Bush justice, of the same sort meted out in Bush’s commutation of the sentence of his felonious national security advisor, Scooter Libby.
(5) The sentence sought by the prosecutor in Governor Siegelman’s case–30 years–was excessively disproportionate, and the sentence imposed — 7 years, 4 months — was harsh.
(6) There are numerous apparently legitimate (and arguably compelling) appealable issues in this case, as confirmed by a number of legal scholars. There have been allegations of jury misconduct and the possible introduction of extrinsic evidence into the jury deliberation process that have not been fully investigated. For this reason, and because Governor Siegelman is not in any way a flight risk, the denial of a bond pending appeal appears inappropriate, and the shackling of the Governor in handcuffs and leg irons as he was taken out of the courtroom was shocking.
Zola Speaks Again
The Bush Administration’s Department of Justice, with corrupt and malicious motive and intent, and in unseemly connivance with the Administration’s political retainers in Alabama, conceived and pursued a prosecution against Don Siegelman, through a grotesque and partisan perversion of justice, secured his conviction. This was done for a criminally corrupt purpose—in order to eliminate a popular elected official of an opposing party and to cement the Republican Party’s control over all attributes of state and federal power in Alabama, and to help bolster the fundraising advantages of the Alabama Republican Party by making those who donate to its opponents fear prosecution.
Dare to tell the truth, as we pledge to tell it, in full, since the normal channels of justice have failed to do so. Our duty is to speak out; we do not wish to be an accomplice in this travesty.
The truth, first of all, about Siegelman’s trial and conviction: At the root of it all is a group of evil men whose motivations are, and have from the beginning been, the basest political manipulations. The trial was a mockery and a farce which shamed and disgraced our courts, pursued by prosecutors who scorn justice and presided over by a judge who showed it only contempt.
Throughout they acted with the concerted aim of manipulating popular opinion for partisan political purposes. The public was astounded; rumors flew of the most horrible acts, the most monstrous deceptions, lies that were an affront to our history. The public, naturally, was taken in. No punishment could be too harsh. The people clamored for the humiliation of the defendant.
How flimsy it is! The fact that someone could have been convicted on this charge is the ultimate iniquity. I defy decent men to read it without a stir of indignation in their hearts and a cry of revulsion, at the thought of the undeserved punishment being meted out. And how childish and irrational the charges are, how groundless the accusations! How the majesty of the nation’s name and its prosecutorial authority was degraded by this spite and malice.
It is said that within the deliberation room, the jurors were naturally leaning toward acquittal. Then machinations began to pressure the jurors improperly. Evidence of this was produced, and swept aside by the judge, who refused to make serious inquiry. This judge was not impartial, but bent on an injustice. I know of no greater crime against the state than the one committed here.
And now the prosecutors and the judge who committed this travesty will attempt to conceal their wrongdoing with claims of secrecy. Enough! Let truth be on the march. Let their misdeeds in the name of justice be fully exposed to the light of day, and let them be punished.
An iniquitous verdict has been rendered that will forever weigh upon our courts and will henceforth cast a shadow of suspicion on all their judgments. The conduct of this court is inescapably criminal.
We are told of the honor of the courts; we are supposed to love and respect them. But this is not about those courts, whose dignity we are seeking, in our cry for justice.
Ah, what a cesspool of folly and foolishness, what preposterous fantasies, what corrupt police tactics, what inquisitorial, tyrannical practices! What petty whims of a few higher-ups trampling the nation under their boots, ramming back down their throats the people’s cries for truth and justice, with the travesty of partisan politics as a pretext.
It is a crime to lie to the public, to twist public opinion to insane lengths in the service of the vilest death-dealing machinations. It is a crime to poison the minds of the meek and the humble, to stoke the passions of with false charges.
Truth and justice, so ardently longed for! How terrible it is to see them trampled, unrecognized and ignored!
Truth is on the march, and nothing will stop it. This court and these prosecutors have, decidedly, a most singular and perverse idea of justice.
This is the plain truth and it is terrifying. I repeat with the most vehement conviction: truth is on the march, and nothing will stop it. Today is only the beginning, for it is only today that the positions have become clear: on one side, those who are guilty, who do not want the light to shine forth, on the other, those who seek justice and who will give their lives to attain it. I said it before and I repeat it now: when truth is buried underground, it grows and it builds up so much force that the day it explodes it blasts everything with it. We shall see whether we have been setting ourselves up for the most resounding of disasters, yet to come.
I accuse the court of allowing farcical charges to proceed before it, of doing manifest injustice and colluding in the conviction of an innocent man. The pursuit of justice must now be unrelenting. Without it we surrender to the forces of tyranny which are now descending upon our country.
With apologies to Emile Zola.
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Winner of the 2012 Olivier Rebbot Award for best photographic reporting from abroad in magazines or books