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Power, Justice and Immunity


There is an adage in Anglo-American law that says, "The King can do no wrong," a reflection of the power of kings stemming from the conquest of Britain by William the Conqueror in 1066.

It remains in American law under the doctrine called sovereign immunity, which protects the government from suit by its citizens.

But beyond the law there is the practice of politicians of bowing to the power of the president, no matter what he (or someday, she) does.

There is no question that Richard Nixon broke laws during the Watergate scandal. Nor is there serious question that Ronald Reagan violated the Boland Amendment, which outlawed aid to the contras in Nicaragua.

When the present Bush administration wiretapped the phone calls of Americans it violated the F.I.S.A. (or Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) law, which required  secret court orders to proceed.

  Yet, in none of these cases were presidents charged for violating the laws.  Indeed, when Nixon was threatened with impeachment, his handpicked successor, Gerald Ford, issued a pardon before any charges were even made!

There’s an important lesson here, in that the presidents known as the toughest on crime, didn’t want that toughness when it came to their crimes.

Historians have demonstrated that high ranking congressmen worked out a nice, neat deal with Nixon, sparing him the embarrassment of impeachment if he resigned.

Centuries after a revolution, in the name of democracy , and it’s still ‘the king can do no wrong.’  Or as Richard Nixon put it, "When the President does it, that makes it legal."

Clearly, if George W. Bush has studied anything, it’s Nixon.

From secret prisons to legalized torture; from renditions abroad to wiretaps at home; from illegal wars to ruinous occupations, crimes – as in violations of both U.S. and International laws – have become presidential prerogatives.

And Congress has become legislative enablers, by not only taking impeachment off the table, but by rewriting laws to make crimes legal, and also granting retroactive immunity to those corporate criminals which aided and abetted the White House in its crime sprees.

When the White House urged companies to quietly violate FISA by spying on Americans’ communications, both sides knew the law was being violated. If this involved poor folks, conspiracy charges would’ve been leveled, and the conspirators would’ve been cast into prison.

But in the recent FISA amendments, a majority of the members of the House voted to grant immunity to phone companies.

How would you like that kind of juice?

Well, you can’t have it.  You’d have to be a multi-million (or billion) dollar corporation…or a president.

Mumia Abu-Jamal is an acclaimed American journalist and author who has been writing from Death Row for more than twenty-five years.

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Mumia was sentenced to death after a trial that was so flagrantly racist that Amnesty International dedicated an entire report to describing how the trial "failed to meet minimum international standards safeguarding the fairness of legal proceedings." The complete report is posted here: http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR51/001/2000

Mumia is author of many books, including Jailhouse Lawyers: Prisoners Defending Prisoners vs. The USA, forthcoming from City Lights Books.

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