The district attorney who pursued false charges of rape against Duke lacrosse players, Michael Nifong, has been permanently disbarred by a state ethics panel. The chairman of the panel, which reached an unanimous decision, stated: “This matter has been a fiasco. There is no doubt about it. It has been a fiasco for a number of people, starting with the defendants and moving out from there to the justice system in general . . . you have to ask yourself, “Why? Why did we get to the place that we got?”” Mr. Nifong himself had admitted that he should be disbarred, and has waived his right to any appeal of the decision.
In these troubled days, the chairman’s comments could just as easily be applied to our national government, and specifically to the Department of Justice. In the last several years the national government has released a legal justification for torturing suspected terrorists; has instituted a secret spying program to intercept domestic phone calls; and has obtained private information on individual citizens through the improper use of National Security Letters, while the Justice Department has pursued trumped up vote fraud allegations before elections and tried to purge career professionals who do not share far right wing ideological values. Not only is this list non-exhaustive, but it also only highlights those scandals that have slipped into the sunlight from the dark night of a notoriously tight-lipped and secretive administration.
The Duke players undoubtedly have suffered greatly from their false prosecution and Mr. Nifong truly deserves his punishment. But, it is also fair to say that one who is falsely accused of terrorism and then sent through extraordinary rendition to be tortured for information they do not have suffers much more than the players have, and those who are responsible for his treatment deserve a much greater punishment for their actions. Think of the innocent men who sit in Guantanamo and the secret CIA prisons in Europe, and compare their plight to the young men falsely accused of rape. While both situations are truly wrong, the wrongs are separated by several magnitudes.
Disoriented and bamboozled by the rhetoric of the war on terror and the omnipresent threat of “another 9/11,” the American public by and large has yet to raise the voice of protest against the rampant abuse of our justice system. Most likely this silence is at least partially due to the sheer number of different scandals and the dazzling depth of corruption in the current administration. Also, the debate as currently framed, in terms of ‘us vs. them’ where dissent is traitorous, does not lend itself to truly discussing how we should react and adapt in a world where domestic threats do exist.
Finally, the media also shares much of the culpability. While political attack dogs are giving directions to civil servants throughout the government and and John Yoo argues that the president need not obey the law during a time of war, the media gives us twenty four hour coverage of Paris Hilton’s distaste for jail. Apparently the occasional article speculating on the intimacy of the Clintons’ marriage is what passes as serious investigative journalism these days.
While President Bush seems to believe that history will vindicate his war and his administration, we also may have to wait for the historians to truly piece together the incompetence and corruption that is now popping up in so many places. Unfortunately, by then it will be too late to hold those responsible accountable.
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