July 8, 2007

John S. Koppel started working for the Justice Department as a civil appellate attorney in the Reagan administration. Now, 26 years later, Koppel is so disgusted by the actions of the Bush administration, that he felt compelled to write a devastating op-ed in the Denver Post on why the president’s sense of justice is “a national disgrace.”

The piece ran last Thursday, 48 hours after the president’s scandalous commutation of Scooter Libby’s prison sentence. Given Koppel’s resentment, I get the sense that it was this decision that broke the proverbial camel’s back.

As a longtime attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice, I can honestly say that I have never been as ashamed of the department and government that I serve as I am at this time.

The public record now plainly demonstrates that both the DOJ and the government as a whole have been thoroughly politicized in a manner that is inappropriate, unethical and indeed unlawful. The unconscionable commutation of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s sentence, the misuse of warrantless investigative powers under the Patriot Act and the deplorable treatment of U.S. attorneys all point to an unmistakable pattern of abuse.

In the course of its tenure since the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration has turned the entire government (and the DOJ in particular) into a veritable Augean stable on issues such as civil rights, civil liberties, international law and basic human rights, as well as criminal prosecution and federal employment and contracting practices. It has systematically undermined the rule of law in the name of fighting terrorism, and it has sought to insulate its actions from legislative or judicial scrutiny and accountability by invoking national security at every turn, engaging in persistent fearmongering, routinely impugning the integrity and/or patriotism of its critics, and protecting its own lawbreakers. This is neither normal government conduct nor “politics as usual,” but a national disgrace of a magnitude unseen since the days of Watergate — which, in fact, I believe it eclipses.

Keep in mind, Koppel is a current employee of the Justice Department, which means his decision to register his indignation in print, for all to see, took considerable courage. We’ve seen, all too often, the ways in which the Bush administration will crack down mercilessly on those critics who dare to speak up like this. His career is now in jeopardy.

But Koppel did it anyway, disregarding the consequences. He even notes that he expects “unlawful reprisal from extremely ruthless people who have repeatedly taken such action in the past,” but concludes, “[S]ome things must be said, whatever the risk.”

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