Out in Aspen last week, Governor Chris Christie praised President Obama for continuing some of the policies of President Bush. Christie said: “President Obama has done nothing to change the policies of the Bush administration in the war on terrorism. And I mean practically nothing… And you know why? Cause they work.”
Governor Christie went on to attack those from across the political spectrum who have called for a reconsideration of these policies. To Christie, such thoughts are “dangerous”.
Are “thoughts” dangerous? Should government be in the business of monitoring our “thoughts”? Sorting the millions of exchanges we make each day to determine which of us “might” be thinking of something deemed subversive?
It is bad enough that we live in an age when unwanted marketers take and sift every casual interest we take on the web – to feed it back to us as advertisements for products that might suit us. This is an attempt to separate us from our money. When the government does it, what we will eventually find ourselves separated from is our freedom.
Governor Christie is a former federal prosecutor. It was a job that he has said he abundantly enjoyed. The problem with prosecutors is that they are always asking lawmakers for “tools”, that’s what they call it, to make their jobs easier. The average American now lives under the threat of so many laws and regulations that rarely a week must go by when each of us wittingly or unwittingly breaks some law, some rule or regulation.
The trouble with prosecutors is that their profession operates not in the realm of science but rather of art. People who commit the same crime face different outcomes based on the whims of the prosecutor. Something called “prosecutorial discretion” places the dispensation of justice into the hands of some very subjective public employees, with different motivations, subject to pressure, who then make a personal call as to who gets a pass, who gets a deal, or who gets crushed by the system .
And what sanctions do they face if they get it wrong? When the prosecutor in the Duke Lacrosse case knowingly attempted to falsely imprison three innocent young men for rape, that prosecutor got one day in jail and their accuser wasn’t prosecuted at all. That prosecutor used his public position to run a negative media campaign against the accused. In dozens of media events he orchestrated, this prosecutor attacked the families of these innocent young men for hiring good defense lawyers. It makes you wonder what the outcome would have been if the accused had not been able to hire those good attorneys. Maybe the prosecutor would have never been found out? Maybe he would have been elected to higher office? Maybe the innocent would have died in prison?
It’s tough enough to stand up to a government that has the unlimited resources it gets from taxing its subjects. It’s tougher with a justice system whose highest court looks the other way when citizens are picked up for a parking ticket and then strip-searched in the most demeaning way possible. Perhaps this low grade torture is just government’s way of letting us know who is really in charge.
Out at Aspen, Governor Christie challenged those who doubted the Bush-Obama “War on Terror” to have a conversation with the family members of those who died in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Some people use the phrase “9/11” the way others use “Hitler” or “Communist” – as a means to end debate.
If we are going to have that conversation, let’s hear from the post-9/11 victims as well: Whistleblowers like Jesselyn Radack, an ethics lawyer who was persecuted by the government for doing her job or Thomas Drake, who the government tried to imprison for telling the truth about the waste of taxpayer money and the violation of the United States Constitution in the NSA’s domestic surveillance program.
Before we go too far down the road that Christie advocates, let’s remember the words of Gerry Conlon, one of the “Guildford Four” framed by the anti-terrorist guardians of British justice: “I know what happened was a tragedy… but you don’t compound a tragedy by making other tragedies.”
We have an over-abundance of laws and regulations. Anyone can be a victim of prosecutorial discretion. The Constitution requires cause. Ignoring this, allowing the government to collect information with which to profile us and then target us is the death of the Republic.
Murray Sabrin is professor of finance at Ramapo College and blogs at www.MurraySabrin.com. This is a longer version of the essay that appeared in the Star Ledger on August 2.