Don’t Embarrass the State

Here are the ”core values” of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is a division of the Department of Justice:

• Rigorous obedience to the Constitution of the United States;
• Respect for the dignity of all those we protect;
• Compassion;
• Fairness;
• Uncompromising personal integrity and institutional integrity;
• Accountability by accepting responsibility for our actions and decisions and the consequences of our actions and decisions; and
• Leadership, both personal and professional.

Good stuff. 

So what happens when a man comes forward and claims that the bureau violated his constitutional rights and subjected him to abuse?  Does a friendly FBI lawyer rush into court and say, “We checked this out and we really messed up.  We apologize and we hope you will accept monetary compensation?” 

Not exactly.

In fact, according to a report in today’s New York Times, the legal representatives of the federal government are of the view that even if all of the factual allegations are true, FBI officials are immune from legal liability.  Here is how the Times describes what happened in court:

In sharp questioning, a three-judge panel yesterday challenged arguments by federal officials seeking dismissal of a Pakistani man’s suit charging that because of his religion, race or national origin, he, like others, was held for months after 9/11 in abusive solitary confinement before being cleared of links to terrorism and deported.

In the mahogany and marble splendor of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Lower Manhattan, lawyers for former Attorney General John Ashcroft and other government officials argued that the officials were entitled to immunity from the lawsuit filed by the man, Javaid Iqbal, who had been known as “the cable guy” to his Long Island customers before he was swept into a federal detention center in Brooklyn as were hundreds of other Muslim immigrants in the New York area.

From the start of yesterday’s two-hour hearing, one of the judges, Jon O. Newman, showed particular impatience with the narrow legal defenses offered by the defendants in the case, which lawyers for Mr. Iqbal say seeks accountability for what they call serious constitutional violations by the nation’s highest law enforcement officials. It is the first case of its kind to reach the appellate level.

Judge Newman was especially scathing in questioning the lawyer for Dennis Hasty, formerly the warden of the Metropolitan Detention Center, where Mr. Iqbal and 184 others designated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as “of high interest” were confined in a special unit where a 2003 Justice Department Inspector General’s report found widespread abuse.

Mr. Hasty’s lawyer, Michael L. Martinez, had argued in his brief that even if everything alleged in the lawsuit were true — as the appellate judges must assume at this stage of the litigation — Mr. Iqbal’s treatment “never approached the level of a due process violation.”

“Beatings?” Judge Newman asked. “Exposure to air-conditioning after standing in the rain? Needless strip-searches? Never approached a due process violation? If I thought your client really believed that, I’ve got to tell you, I’d be really troubled.”

Judge Robert D. Sack was equally acerbic in commenting on a defense assertion that the complaint failed to link Mr. Hasty personally to what was going on at the detention center.

“He is the warden,” Judge Sack said. “If he didn’t know what was going on — I’m boggled twice in one argument.”

Read the whole article.

Remember this: The federal government spends trillions every year, but it tells people like Mr. Iqbal to go jump in a lake.  This is our Department of Justice.  And don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s only an “isolated incident.”  Lawyers for the government are constantly seeking to further the “interests” of the government.  And those “interests” are not the same thing as justice.

IMHO, America could use more programming that cuts through the pretensions of officialdom.  Memo to Saturday Night Live: Do a skit where President Bush is giving his State of the Union address.  Here’s the scene: After promising more great-sounding programs, Bush points to the gallery where guys like Mr. Iqbal and Mr. Steven Howards are seated between FBI Director Robert Mueller and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.  Bush declares that “These citizens have been whining about their rights … but by golly we’re at war!  And while I don’t question their patriotism, they did have the temerity to drag my people into court.  If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s complaining.  Mr. Speaker, Honored guests, my message to you tonite is simple: Anyone who disagrees with the policies of my administration is soft on murdering terrorists!  “Remove those guys from this hallowed building,” Bush yells.  Iqbal and Howards are then escorted from the Capitol building to the thundering applause of the Congress.

Would such a skit be too harsh?  Or not harsh enough?