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|JUSTICE DEPT. ADMITS MISTAKES IN FIRING US ATTORNEYS
AG SAYS "MISTAKES WERE MADE" AMID ALLEGATIONS DEPT. USED POLITICAL CRITERIA TO DISMISS US ATTORNEYS THAT DID NOT TOE ADMIN. LINE IN PROSECUTIONS
15 March 2007
The Justice Department's new performance rating system has come under fire, after the firing of 8 US attorneys was called into question. The cases were not clearly cases of underperformance, but seemed to indicate there had been political motivations for the dismissals. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has now admitted that the program was not applied properly in some of those cases and promises to improve the evaluations policy.
The judiciary is bound only by the law. For this reason, mid-level prosecutors are in most cases not elected officials, and judges may have lifelong appointments or sit until an age beyond normal retirement. Independence of the courts system is crucial to ensuring that neither of the politically driven branches of government accumulate the power to manipulate prosecutions or use the legal process to attack dissidents or make policy.
The Kansas City Star reports "Over the last several days, the administration has been forced to explain a strategy that removed eight U.S. attorneys who had fallen out of favor with the administration and replaced them with loyalists. Critics contend the effort was inspired by election-year politics and was designed as retaliation against the more independent prosecutors."
Sen. John Sununu (R-NH) has said the president should fire the attorney general over the politically motivated firings, saying they undermine the system of justice and the democratic system of American government. He suggested AG Gonzales can no longer hold any credibility before the law or the American people.
The White House and Justice Dept. claim that the policy permitting politically motivated firings under the revised USA PATRIOT Act "were designed by a mid-level department lawyer without the knowledge of his superiors or anyone at the White House". Members of Congress have expressed skepticism and hold that the executive must be more aggressive in abiding by the rule of law and protecting the independence of prosecutors.
Where there is a climate of political pressure or classification, the integrity of the judicial, investigatory and prosecutorial process, is by definition eroded. When individuals with an obligation to pursue a prosecution of the mandates of standing law are encouraged to consider political interpretations of those statutory obligations, the system becomes less secure and more prone to abuses and mistakes.
In a time when new areas of American law are being carved out, in the interests of combatting asymmetrical threats to national security, it is perhaps more vital than ever that the system itself be independent and fully subject to the rule of law ("and not of men", as the saying goes). While political motivations can provide a strong temptation to use the courts to effect presumptions about the state of the world or or apparently major investigations, only the total independence and integrity of fair and unbiased due process can ensure the law be applied to its optimum degree.
US attorneys are political appointees, and it is not uncommon for new presidents to replace a major portion of the national team with individuals whose views or attitudes are preferable from a political standpoint. They "serve at the pleasure of the president", meaning the chief of the executive branch can dismiss or replace them at any time, in theory. But, they are obliged to put aside political allegiances and ideology and simply act within and in service of the law as it stands at any given moment.
So, in the wake of several cases where the government has attempted to use the policy process to alter regulatory and prosecutorial practices at the federal level, it is particularly worrying that there have been dismissals apparently based on "political allegiance" to White House policy. Worrying precisely because the two should never be mutually involved; there is no place where political analysis by White House policy-makers can legally alter the meaning of the law, enacted by the legislature and interpreted by the judiciary.
According to the Washington Post, Paul C. Light, a former senatorial staffer and currently professor at New York University, "said that previous administrations have sought political control of the senior ranks of government, but that the Bush administration has tried to centralize such efforts by having departmental chiefs of staff talk regularly with Karl Rove, a senior adviser to the president."
Furthermore, "the Senior Executives Association has expressed concern about 'the increasing politicization of the civil service.'" Questions about the role of political advisors in directing the internal functioning of major federal departments, continue to build, and the AG will have difficult work ahead to ensure that the evaluations system works strictly in keeping with productivity and public service standards. [s]
The freedom of speech is one of the foundational rights under US constitutional law, as manifest in the First Amendment, because it affords the common citizen a protection against a basic authoritarian abuse of power. Now, the US Supreme Court has ruled 5 to 4 that public employees do not enjoy First Amendment protections while on duty. [Full Story]
GOV'T POLICY UNLAWFULLY CRIMINALIZES COMMENT ON SCIENTIFIC FACT
The global environment is, of course, a global issue, one that touches every life on the planet, and the science about it should be open and available to all. Past government policy and existing federal law mean that such scientific evidence should be readily available to the public. But now, it appears that several agencies are laboring to silence scientists who are researching climate trends and alterations. [Full Story]
COURT FILING CITES 'CONCERTED EFFORT' TO ATTACK CRITICS
Regardless of whether the president or the vice president have done anything illegal, it is now clear that they were both involved in deliberately using classified national security information to smear a critic of their Iraq policy. This contradicts statements made as recently as last week which suggest that the president opposed any such use of sensitive information for personal or political gain. [Full Story]