Isn't it heartening to know that our public officials, particularly ones who take an oath to uphold the law and tell the truth, are capable of telling repeated falsehoods?
And we're not talking about lying in a casual conversation. We're talking about lying in a letter to Congress about matters that go to the very heart of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
That's what we citizens received when Brian A. Benczkowski wrote the DOJ's official response to a Congressional request for documents related to three cases that appear to involve politically motivated prosecutions. The prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman is one of those cases.
It wasn't enough that Benczkowski essentially refused to comply with a request from the governmental body that funds his agency and writes the laws he and his colleagues are sworn to uphold. No, Benczkowski has to tell one lie after another.
Scott Horton, of Harper's, is just the guy to dissect Benczkowski's fact-challenged missive. Horton's verdict? In just two paragraphs, the DOJ's chief Congressional liaison tells seven whoppers. It's not easy to tell seven lies in such a small amount of space. But hey, this guy works in the Bush Justice Department.
In a post a few days ago, I referred to the problems in our justice system--both at the federal and state levels--as a medical problem, not a legal or law-enforcement problem. I was talking about a form of sociopathy that I believe has infected large segments of the Republican party, from the Bush White House, the Bob Riley administration in Alabama, to the Shelby County Courthouse in Columbiana, Alabama.
I know using words like "sociopath" seems like extreme language. But most Americans misconstrue what the words sociopath and psychopath mean. (The two terms are pretty much interchangeable, according to most experts). They don't just refer to mass murderers and other obviously disturbed people. Essentially, the term applies to people with little or no conscience, who have little or no sense of empathy, no respect for the rights of others.
Experts estimate that 4 in every 100 Americans is a sociopath, and the number appears to be growing in our society. Think about that: If you are in a room with 100 people, or you work in an organization with at least 100 people, you probably are near at least four sociopaths. And these are people who can do extensive damage to other people's lives.
Just consider my own legal problem: After I saw signs of disturbing behavior from several individuals who were involved I began looking into the subject of antisocial personality disorder, the condition that causes one to be a sociopath. I am convinced that there are a few people connected to my case who either are sociopaths or come very close to fitting the description.
Experts say our jails are filled with people who have antisocial personality disorders. But many sociopaths are law-abiding folks, who work and live among the rest of us. We probably have no idea who they are until we get too close, for too long a period of time.
No medication is known to have a positive effect on the disorder, and sociopaths generally are resistant to therapy, mainly because they almost always deny they have the disorder. Therapy can help, but only when it is intensive, with an unusually enlightened and committed patient.
Is Brian Benczkowski a sociopath? Probably not. But it only takes a few sociopaths, in key positions in an organization, to create a highly dysfunctional environment. I've seen it repeatedly when interacting with people in Shelby County--from clerks to deputies to judges, you name it. They can look you right in the eye and tell you things they know aren't true--or take actions that they know are improper--and they don't bat an eye. I suspect most of these folks are generally fine, regular folks. But they work in an environment where sociopathy filters down from a few bad apples at the top, and you can see the result at every level. I've gotten to where I pretty much know how these people are going to respond before I even ask a question.
And I think that's what accounts for Brian Benczkowski's letter. He works under a few corrupt and sociopathic people, and in order to keep his job, he starts to behave in a way that reflects the values of the people above him.
If you want to make a serious effort at understanding what is happening now in our justice system, and in the Bush Administration in general, I urge you to read the works of Robert Hare. He is one of our leading experts on sociopathy, and his Without Conscience Web site is filled with excellent information.