Saturday, July 17, 2021

Journalism, Judges, and Justice: a Neglected American Alliance

The United States, after losing propaganda wars against Russia and China post-Trump, appears to be doubling down on anti-democratic allegations while elevating Asian-Americans into visible positions of power. This hybrid strategy is too little, too late, and will do nothing to alter China's rise to superpower status. 

By now, American politicians and CEOs know their country's institutions are no longer export-ready without substantial advertising and trillions of dollars of government stimulus. To add ballast to the strategies above, they are consolidating media and using government lawyers to prosecute perceived enemies of the state. Such maneuvering, which attempts to combine a Soviet hammer with American marketing and banking expertise, will fail because it brings nothing new. 

No government, irrespective of the political party in power, is really interested in freedom of the press. All democratic governments are keen to control the media by using undemocratic means. -- Preetika Dwivedi

Six corporations already control most of what Americans see, but social media, streaming services, satellite radio, and podcasts represent challenges to crafting a united narrative. As media further consolidates, it can distract you on firmer financial footing, sidelining critical voices by drowning you in options. For example, the American journalist most resembling Edward R. Murrow or Dan Rather is British-born Mehdi Hasan, whom most Americans have never heard of; meanwhile, any American wishing to read America's most honest political commentary would need to turn to the opening letter of Larry Flynt's Hustler magazine. When a semi-mainstream pornographer is a country's most incisive native-born journalist, it is unclear how further media consolidation will assist the role of journalist as the legislature's unofficial fact-finder.

"[I]mperative is the need to preserve inviolate the constitutional rights of free speech, free press and free assembly in order to maintain the opportunity for free political discussion, to the end that government may be responsive to the will of the people and that changes, if desired, may be obtained by peaceful means. Therein lies the security of the Republic, the very foundation of constitutional government." -- Chief Justice Hughes, 299 U.S. 353, 365 (1937)

Regarding "lawfare," the current Democratic Party majority has failed to secure significant jail time against even one alleged bad actor. Republican Steve Bannon's indictment was dismissed. Republicans Paul Manafort and Roger Stone were pardoned. Army lieutenant general Michael Flynn pled guilty to lying to the FBI but was pardoned. The list of pardoned and/or convicted military personnel is long and, the occupation of Afghanistan having lasted 20 years, includes members under both Democratic and Republican administrations. 

History may not be kind to Clint Allen Lorance, Robert Bales, Jeremy Morlock, Edward Gallagher, or Mathew Golsteyn, but they can always claim they were victims of a corrupt military hierarchy, thus casting doubt on America's justice system. Such doubt means the law, designed to punish the guilty and free the innocent, cannot be wholly trusted, which in turn means American lawyers and judges cannot be trusted or believed. Doubt and legal maneuvering are not new phenomena, but when they have appeared together, the first casualty has been the credibility of the legal branch. In a ternary system where the judiciary supervises the executive and the legislature, it is not difficult to predict rot from one branch spreading everywhere. This, again, is nothing new. The 1995 O.J. Simpson trial foreshadowed issues not only within the criminal justice system, but the entire legal branch, including police departments, just as the Rodney King beating foreshadowed George Floyd's manslaughter. (The result of the upcoming Theranos trial, where a blond-haired, blue-eyed CEO is claiming she was the victim of a brown-skinned svengali, will determine whether California's justice system is capable of reform or irrevocably corrupt.)

Rot is particularly apt to spread where students lack proper civics and history instruction, and Americans who study the My Lai massacre are not taught the following facts: 1) twenty-six soldiers were charged with criminal offenses, but only Lieutenant William Calley Jr., a platoon leader, was convicted; 2) the "day after the verdict, Nixon ordered Calley released from the post stockade and placed under house arrest in the Fort Benning bachelor officer quarters. Appeals would eventually reduce his punishment to time served." 

Why didn't President Nixon pardon Calley outright? The public--including a majority of whom voted--wouldn't have tolerated it, and their political engagement allowed Congress to use impeachment to drive Nixon out of the political arena. In contrast, when a divided Congress impeached Trump, few Americans cared because Trump was already out of office. (Politics may be a show, but it must contain some substance to maintain viewership.) 

Understanding events between Nixon and Biden requires remembering what happened between the American War of Aggression against Vietnam and twenty years of Afghan occupation: the Iraq War and Guantanamo Bay. There, too, justice and judges were feckless. Iraq War criminal Charles Graner served six and a half years of his ten year sentence. Lynndie England, Graner's co-conspirator, served only eighteen months of her three year sentence. As of July 2021, Guantanamo Bay is still open, despite former President Obama's pledge to close it. After the Mahmudiyah rape and killings, justice prevailed against Steven Dale Green, James P. Barker, Paul E. Cortez, Jesse V. Spielman, Bryan L. Howard, and Anthony W. Yribe, which made it all the more disheartening to see political and judicial integrity retreat again during the Afghan occupation. In stable countries, the scales of justice ought not to wobble so much. 

Now would be a good time for Americans to re-evaluate why political parties exist. It is not only to elevate intellectuals onto public platforms so they can compete with others under transparent rules that advance the nation. Ideally, politics is played by people who first and foremost prevent corruption within government itself, thereby gaining credibility to regulate the private sector, including criminals. Without such credibility, China's one-party system will succeed against the more complex, more variegated American system of checks and balances for obvious reasons: more variety is inferior when it allows more rather than less corruption, and when it renders corruption harder to root out. 

When the United States lacked global political competition, its political negligence was understandable. Today, America's political negligence is perplexing as well as unforgivable. After all, every empire eventually expires, but whether systemic corruption is part of its history is entirely up to its people and its politicians. Perhaps, in the end, not all empires are doomed to fail--just ones that make a mockery of their judges and journalists. 

© Matthew Mehdi Rafat, active member of International Federation of Journalists as of date of publication (July 2021)

Bonus: The war crimes mentioned above are by no means an  exhaustive list. According to CNN, 

"In testimony at an Article 32 hearing -- the military's version of a grand jury or preliminary hearing -- [Colonel] West said the [Iraqi] policeman... was not cooperating with interrogators, so he watched four of his soldiers from the 220th Field Artillery Battalion beat the detainee on the head and body. West said he also threatened to kill [the policeman]. 

Military prosecutors say West followed up on that threat by taking the suspect outside, put him on the ground near a weapons clearing barrel and fired his 9 mm pistol into the barrel. Apparently not knowing where West's gun was aimed, [the Iraqi policeman] cracked and gave information..." 

However, the policeman, Yehiya Kadoori Hamoodi, "said in an interview that he did not [provide any valuable information], because he knew nothing." According to the NYT, "Hamoodi said that he was not sure what he told the Americans, but that it was meaningless information induced by fear and pain." 

"At least one man named by Mr. Hamoodi was taken into custody... and his home was searched. No plans for attacks on Americans or weapons were found. Colonel West testified that he did not know whether 'any corroboration' of a plot was ever found, adding: 'At the time I had to base my decision on the intelligence I received. It's possible that I was wrong about Mr. Hamoodi.'" (Source: NY Times, THE STRUGGLE FOR IRAQ: INTERROGATIONS; How Colonel Risked His Career By Menacing Detainee and Lost, May 27, 2004, by Deborah Sontag) 

95 members of Congress signed a letter to the secretary of the Army supporting the colonel. West was fined 5,000 dollars. He became a Florida Representative and is now Chair of the Texas Republican Party.

"There was a looming sense of doom in America, a perception that established politics had failed. Many pundits had said that--after being motivated and defined for 30 years by the Communist threat--Americans seriously needed to find a new enemy." -- Mark Lawson, The Battle for Room Service (1993) 

After candidate Ross Perot's popularity, the "unnerving burden on President [Bill] Clinton was to restore democratic equilibrium--and confidence in the conventional ballot box--or America might yet be the territory for a populist, anti-political, sinister Mr. Fixit." -- 
Mark Lawson, The Battle for Room Service (1993)

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