Thursday, March 11, 2010

Siegelman Shines Spotlight on Obama's Folly

Former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman knows the dangers of a dysfunctional justice department in a way that most Americans only can imagine.

So when Siegelman points out that the Barack Obama administration is acting irrationally on justice matters, citizens would be wise to pay attention.

Siegelman still is appealing unlawful convictions obtained against him under the George W. Bush DOJ, so he knows the harm that can come when federal prosecutors are allowed to run amok. Many progressives held high hopes for Obama on the justice front, but Siegelman says those hopes are far from realized.

As Exhibit A, Siegelman points to a recent announcement that the Obama DOJ is about to launch an indigent defense program. Siegelman sees disturbing irony in that.

"The U.S Department of Justice announced last month a new program to help poor people accused of crimes obtain a lawyer," Siegelman says. "Great Idea! But what difference will that make as long as the DOJ approves of their prosecutors framing innocent people?"

The Justice Department approves of prosecutors framing innocent people? Yes, indeed. Says Siegelman:

In January, lawyers for President Obama argued before the U.S.Supreme Court that we don't have a constitutional right not to be framed. Check it out: On January 5th, The LA Times reported in the case of Pottawattamie County v. McGhee and Harrington, “President Obama’s lawyers asserted there is no constitutional ‘right not to be framed . . . ’" In this case two men spent more than 25 years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit.

We have written before about the Pottawattamie County case. The Los Angeles Times reported that several justices were underwhelmed by the Obama DOJ's arguments. The Times' David G. Savage reported:

In the past, the high court had said prosecutors could not be sued for doing their jobs, even if they sometimes convicted the wrong defendant. And in November, an Obama administration lawyer argued on behalf of Pottawattamie County, asserting that there is no constitutional "right not to be framed."

But several justices said they found that argument appalling. They signaled they were not prepared to shield prosecutors who knowingly fabricated a case against a suspect.

What can happen when prosecutors know they cannot be held accountable? Siegelman answers that question in a poignant way:

On my 62nd birthday, February 24th, 2008, while I was in federal prison in the swamps of Louisiana, for something that The New York Times and 91 former state Attorneys General say is not a crime, CBS’ 60 Minutes did a 12 minute piece showing how prosecutors bargained with a “crook” to get him to write and rewrite his testimony until he got it the way the government wanted. Then government prosecutors (Karl Rove's best friend's wife who was and still is the U.S. Attorney in my case) presented false evidence to get a conviction.”

Siegelman recently passed his 64th birthday, and he still faces the possibility of returning to prison for committing a "crime" that doesn't exist under the law. He encourages those who are concerned about justice issues to revisit the 60 Minutes story about his case. You can check out the story here:

Did Ex-Alabama Governor Get a Raw Deal?

Perhaps the story will serve as a reminder of just how little progress has been made on justice issues under the Obama administration. Says Siegelman:

Today, two years later, even after John Conyers, Chairman of the U.S.House Judiciary Committee, has written letters to three U.S. Attorneys General (Gonzales, Mukasey and Eric Holder), there still has been no investigation of the government's misconduct in my case.

Is our first black president so busy "looking forward, not backward" that he simply does not care about gross violations of basic civil rights? Will our first black president, the man who seemingly embodies the work of Martin Luther King, continue to turn a blind eye toward injustice?

Will this, in so many words, be Barack Obama's legacy: "I saw injustice all around me . . . and I ignored it"?

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