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Department of Orwellian Excesses

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A few weeks ago, I testified before the Judiciary Committee in connection with their examination of crimes committed among contractors in Iraq. This was a matter within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Department of Justice. The crimes described, and well documented, notably the case of Jamie Leigh Jones, were horrendous. She had been gang-raped, brutally assaulted, and then imprisoned for fear that she would tell her story to the outside world. In the end, Ms. Jones said she was barely able to escape Baghdad with her life. And where was the Justice Department in all of this? As I noted, it has adopted an attitude of official indifference—thousands of cases of violent crime, zero prosecutions. The Jones case was no different. They responded to inquiry after inquiry with the same line: gang rape? Assault? False imprisonment? Don’t bother us. We have more important things to deal with. And why? Such is the arrogance of this Justice Department, that they sent the Judiciary Committee a brush-off letter announcing they couldn’t find a warm body to sit in the chair to represent them for the hearing. “It was an absolute disgrace,” said Chairman Conyers, as members from both parties nodded in agreement.

Moving forward now three weeks, the Bush Administration was asked to make up for its default at the hearings by providing some explanations for its inaction. The deadline provided was year’s end. And, typically, the deadline came and went, and the Bush Administration could not find the time or energy even to have a low-level clerk write a letter.

So what, you may wonder, is the ultra-important business that precludes the Justice Department from responding to Congressional inquiries into its failure to discharge its principal mission, which is—or at least used to be—law enforcement?

Well, here’s an example. At just this time, out in Michigan, in a criminal case we have chronicled previously in which the Justice Department seeks to protect the nation from that horrendous scourge—trial lawyers raising money for Democratic candidates—a young Justice apparatchik was busily issuing criminal subpoenas to a media company named Sussman Sikes. The subpoenas require the company to produce all materials related to a television advertisement that the company had prepared for the Fieger law firm.

And what had prompted this? The PR company had done an advertisement which showed President George W. Bush speaking disparagingly about the Fieger law firm, and it sought to turn this around to the law firm’s benefit. The ad is actually quite clever. Take a gander:

So to defend the dignity of his commander-in-chief (I use this term advisedly, since it’s clear that this man is, contrary to his oath of office, not taking direction from the laws or the Constitution), the young assistant U.S. attorney has launched out to harass and intimidate the PR firm that made the commercial. Next no doubt he will be sending FBI agents into TV stations to serve subpoenas and seize copies of the advertisement.

You may have thought that you enjoyed freedom of speech and that the Department of Justice existed to protect your rights. That might even have been true of prior embodiments of the Department of Justice. But it’s not true for the Bush Department of Justice, which is intent on simultaneously demonstrating its arrogant abuse of power and its contempt for the nation’s Constitution and laws.

And as for priorities, the record couldn’t be clearer: deal with a brutal gang rape? No, we don’t have any resources for that. Or deal with a commercial that portrays the commander-in-chief in a negative light (i.e., by showing his natural self)–now that gets lavish attention and resources. Far more, in fact, than would have been needed to comply with Congress’s demand for a report and explanation.

If you’re not outraged by these disgraceful antics, you’re not paying attention.

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