A Political Prisoner: The Don Siegelman Case
Today, Don Siegelman, former governor of the state of Alabama, sits in a federal prison, sentenced to a seven year term for bribery.
Every day that Siegelman remains in prison every American citizen who openly dissents from the policies and protests the criminality of the Bush/Cheney regime is less free and more vulnerable to politically motivated prosecution.
For the plain fact of the matter is that Don Siegelman is, in effect, a political prisoner. The formal charge against him was bribery. But, practically speaking, his offense was his political success as a Democrat in a “red” Republican state. When Siegelman indicated an interest in reviving his political career, one of his accusers was heard to say, “[We’re] going to take care of Siegelman.” And so they did.
Larisa Alexandrovna, one of the few journalists to investigate this case in depth, writes:
For most Americans, the very concept of political prisoners is remote and exotic, a practice that is associated with third-world dictatorships but is foreign to the American tradition. The idea that a prominent politician – a former state governor – could be tried on charges that many observers consider to be trumped-up, convicted in a trial that involved numerous questionable procedures, and then hauled off to prison in shackles immediately upon sentencing would be almost unbelievable.
Less “unbelievable,” perhaps, if we reflect upon a dominant Republican mind-set: politics as warfare, the Democrats as “evil” and “the enemy,” and not as “the loyal opposition.” “You are either with us or with the terrorists,” said George Bush — no compromise, no alternatives, and no middle ground. Thus the goal of the GOP warrior is not merely to defeat the Democrats; the goal is to destroy them.
This was the objective of those who brought charges against Don Siegelman, in a case that stinks from top to bottom of political vendetta and manipulation. It’s a rather complicated story, which I cannot recount in detail here. Those details may be found in the Raw Story (Alexandrovna et al) series and the DemocracyNow Scott Horton interview, listed and linked below. However, these are the essential elements:
The bribery charge rose out of Siegelman’s appointment of Richard Scrushy to the Alabama hospital regulatory board, a non-paying position that Scrusky had held under two previous governors. The appointment followed Scrushy’s donation of a half million dollars to a Siegelman foundation and gained Siegelman no financial advantage whatever. Of course, political favors to donors is routine in both state an federal government, as numerous ambassadorial appointments will testify. Moreover, clearly illegal campaign contributions were received by Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions and Federal Judge William Pryor, who have not been investigated much less prosecuted.
Siegelman held the distinction of serving all four elective state offices: Attorney General, Secretary of State, Lieutenant Governor and Governor. With his prestige, popularity, and name-recognition, he was a persistent threat to the well-oiled Alabama GOP political machine. As his daughter, Dana, describes it,
The men and women behind this conspiracy have a lot against my dad. My dad wanted an education lottery, brought jobs to the state, made big businesses pay their taxes, sought to completely change Alabama’s constitution, raised teachers’ salaries, gave African Americans jobs that Caucasians had supremacy over for years, helped in fundraisers for other Democrats, supported the arts, was well-respected on a national level, etc… It was a battle against a truly liberal leader, not some moderate Democrat. He held the highest offices in the state and was Alabama’s longest running politician. Republicans wanted their state back, and they got it.
“They got it” through a stolen election. In 2002, Siegelman appeared to have won re-election against Republican challenger Bob Riley. But then, in Baldwin county, Republican election supervisors (no Democrats allowed), locked the doors and “discovered” a “computer glitch” that tilted the election to Riley, whereupon the GOP Attorney General, William Pryor, put the kibosh on Siegelman’s appeal for a recount by sealing the ballots. (Siegelman gives his account of the theft here).
While Siegelman vowed “to come back and fight another day,” the GOP was determined to see to it that he was at last down for the count.
Enter Bill Canary, Republican kingmaker, friend and confidant of Karl Rove, campaign advisor to William Pryor and Bob Riley, and, not coincidentally, husband of U.S. Attorney, Leura Canary. It was Mrs. Canary, along with U.S. Attorney Alice Martin, who brought the case against Siegelman.
Enter next, Dana Jill Simpson, a rare and endangered political animal: a republican political operative with a conscience and an allegiance to the rule of law that trumps partisan loyalty. As Scott Horton reports, in a sworn affidavit Ms. Simpson, Riley’s campaign attorney,
provide[d] a detailed specific account of what transpired, starting with [Bill] Canary’s statement “not to worry about Don Siegelman that ‘his girls would take care of him.’” Then Riley’s son asked Canary if he was sure that Siegelman would be “taken care of,” and Canary told him not to worry that he had already gotten it worked out with Karl and Karl had spoken with the Department of Justice and the Department of Justice was already pursuing Don Siegelman.” “His girls” were Canary’s wife Leura Canary, who as U.S. Attorney in the Middle District of Alabama, did in fact start the investigation, only dropping off when objections were raised by Governor Siegelman’s counsel due to her obvious political bias and the U.S. Attorney in Birmingham, Alice Martin. Ms. Simpson, who gave the affidavit, is a lifelong Republican and was a worker in the Riley campaign against Siegelman, and her account has been contemporaneously corroborated.
While communicating with Siegelman’s attorney prior to releasing her affidavit, Simpson’s house was demolished by a mysterious fire, and Simpson herself was forced off the road. Mere coincidences, of course.
The judge at Siegelman’s trial, Mark Fuller, a Bush appointee and a former member of the executive committee of the Alabama Republican party, had a well-known grudge against Siegelman. Fuller refused to recuse himself from the case, denied bail, immediately put Siegelman in shackles and ordered him to the Atlanta federal prison. After seven months Judge Fuller, in violation of the law, has refused to release the trial transcript without which the defendant can not appeal his conviction.
Don Siegelman has since been shuttled back and forth among several federal prisons out of touch with his attorneys and not allowed access to the internet or to press interviews. This treatment has prompted an unprecedented demand by forty-four former state attorneys general for a Congressional investigation of the Siegelman case.
The Purge in Progress
The Siegelman Saga puts a human face on a widespread politicization of the U.S. Department of Justice. In a similar case in Wisconsin, Georgia Thompson, a purchasing official in the state government, was convicted of corruption in a case that worked to the advantage of a Republican candidate for governor. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals was so shocked by the injustice of her conviction that they ordered Thompson’s immediate release, even before issuing a ruling. The evidence against her, said Judge Diane Wood, was “beyond thin.”
The December, 2006, firings of eight Republican U.S. attorneys, who insisted upon conducting their offices without partisan bias, has brought national attention to the political corruption of the Justice Department and has caused many to wonder about the behavior of the remaining eight-five U.S. attorneys that Alberto Gonzales saw fit to retain. It is a troubling question.
A study by Donald Shields and John Cragan, two professors of communication, may supply an answer: “the offices of the U.S. Attorneys across the nation investigate seven times as many Democratic officials as they investigate Republican officials, a number that exceeds even the racial profiling of African Americans in traffic stops.” (The numbers: 298 Democrats, 67 Republicans, 10 “Others”).
This apparent partisan purge of Democrats, combined with amnesty for Republicans, hits close to home. It is reported that Carol Lam, one of the eight sacked U.S. Attorneys, was hot on the trail of my Republican Congressman, Jerry Lewis. I’ve heard nothing more about this investigation, so it appears that Lewis is off the hook.
So now we have in place a thoroughgoing corruption of the federal justice system. The blindfold has been torn off the face of lady justice, as the Department of Justice becomes, in effect, an extension of the Republican Party, and possession of a public office by a Democrat becomes a de facto crime, should the hounds of the Department of Justice decide to go after said official.
The Democratic Congress has been remarkably complacent about all this. True, they have called a few young graduates from Pat Robertson’s Regent U. Law school to testify, they have heard from the fired U.S. attorneys, and the Democrats have promised hearings on the Siegelman case. But its all show – a bark without a bite – as the White House and the Department of Justice steadfastly refuse to recognize subpoenas or allow the key players to testify under oath. These offenses, by the way, were included among the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon.
Unsurprisingly, these outrages by the Department of Defense have not excited much interest in the mainstream media, with the honorable exception of Keith Olbermann and Dan Abrams of MSNBC. Abrams series, “Bush League Justice,” which was broadcast last December, was magnificent, and he promised that “we’re not going to let this go away… We are going to be watching very closely.” Six weeks later, we are awaiting the follow-up. In addition, rumor has it that 60 Minutes is preparing a segment on the Siegelman case.
Two Roads Diverge.
The fate of Don Siegelman may reflect the fate of our republic. We are at a crucial crossroads, one road leads to a restoration of the rule of law, and the other road leads to despotism.
If Don Siegelman’s persecutors have their way and he serves out his term of seven years, and if the culprits who stole his re-election and railroaded him to federal lockup enjoy the fruits of their villainy and escape punishment, then the rule of law is dead in Alabama and in critical condition in Washington D.C. Then the gangrene of lawlessness in Alabama may spread until it destroys the entire body politic.
I seem to recall a comment by some Bushie to the effect that “we’re pushing the limits until someone or something stops us.” To date, those limits have extended well beyond the Constitution and the rule of law. Acts of Congress are nullified by signing statements, Congressional oversight is blinded by “executive privilege” and a refusal to recognize subpoenas. Elections have been privatized and are unverifiable. All that’s left to the Congress to contain this burgeoning power of “the unitary executive” is impeachment, and impeachment, as we all know, is “off the table.”
Someone, somehow, must draw a line in the sand and say “no further!” And then, push back – and back — and back.
“Just wait,” we hear, “in less than a year there will be a new president and a new day dawning.” If so, then this new day will require a new leader with qualities and capacities that are not conspicuous in any of the present-day contenders for that office.
Perhaps the next President, once in office, will surprise us with inspired leadership qualities not now apparent. It has happened before.
But the restoration of freedom never simply “trickles down” from great leaders. It must also “percolate up” from the people. And I don’t see much reason for hope in the American public today. But extraordinary crises have a way of summoning extraordinary virtues.
If, somehow, we follow the road to restoration of democracy and the rule of law, we should see at the beginning of that journey the release and exoneration of Don Siegelman, the disgrace and punishment of his tormenters, and the end of political prosecution.
It will be a long and arduous road to follow. But it is the only road worthy of our dedication and effort.
For more Information About the Seigelman Case and the Corruption of Justice:
The Don Siegelman Website. Archives of News reports about the Siegelman case. Interview with Don Siegelman, (Take Back the Media, September 13, 2004).The Raw Story Series:
“Bush League Justice:” Dan Abrams, MSNBC.
Scott Horton interviewed by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales on Democracy Now.
Transcript, Audio, and Video. (Move ahead, past opening news reports).
Scott Horton’s Harper’s Blogs: June 9, 2007, June 28, 2007.
Copyright 2008 by Ernest Partridge
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