Greenwald has been writing about the two-tiered US justice system for several years on his blog at salon.com, so for his regular readers there’s not much new in this book. But it’s worth reading to get a sense of the way in which this system has developed in the past 40 years.
A capsule summary: Ford’s pardon of Nixon; the nearly complete absence of penalties for the perpetrators of the Iran-Contra affair; Bush’s pardon of Caspar Weinberger in 1992; Clinton’s refusal to investigate the very serious allegations of Iraqgate; Bush Jr.’s commuting of Scooter Libby’s sentence (a rare case in which a powerful figure was even brought to trial); the many war crimes committed by the Bush administration that Obama has steadfastly refused to investigate; the suppression by the US government of other governments’ attempts to seek justice for those illegally detained and tortured by the US; the complete absence of any prosecution of the massive fraud and other illegal behavior that led to the 2008 financial crisis.
Through all of this the media elite have been willing partners in this two-tiered system, treating the idea of prosecuting the powerful as un-serious and harmful, while simultaneously advocating ever harsher punishments for ordinary citizens for ever more petty offenses.
And it’s the uniformity of the elite response to elite law breaking, and not the law breaking itself, that makes the past few decades different than before. In decades past there was corruption and criminal behavior by the ruling elite, but the expectation was that, if caught, they would face legal penalties. That expectation no longer exists. Cheney and Bush have boasted in public and in print about how they knowingly violated the convention against torture and US federal statutes against torture. Bush admitted in 2005 that he had knowingly committed felonies by ordering warrantless wiretaps - felonies that carry a 5 year sentence and $10,000 fine per offense - in the certain knowledge that he would never be prosecuted for those crimes. Senior management at the big investment banks have surely lost no sleep worrying that they will be prosecuted for fraud, even for those cases where the evidence of fraud is overwhelming.
Meantime, the prison population for ordinary Americans has risen dramatically. With 5% of the world’s population, the US has 25% of the world’s prisoners - more prisoners in the US with its population of 300 million than in China with its population of 1.3 billion. The majority of those prisoners are in for non-violent offenses, some for many years because of mandatory minimum sentencing laws passed in the past few decades.