Monday, January 24, 2011

Tom Perez, Asst Attorney General for Civil Rights

On Social Justice Sunday, Tom met with a group after the 10:30 mass at St Aloysius in DC. He opened by saying that when he took the oath of office in October 2009, he placed his hand on the bible and swore to uphold the Constitution; he did not swear to uphold the bible. This is a deft way of making the distinction between legality and morality, with the implication that when laws are thought to be moral, it makes compliance more general, and his job of enforcement somewhat easier, but that's mostly it.

His presentation was an uplifting and heart warming recollection of the dreams of his youth, and the achievements of the department in the recent past; among which, the program to reduce playgound bullying and the recent conviction of the Chicago officer who long obtained confessions through torture.

At the question period, the talk shifted to the bullying and torture committed by the previous administration, and would they ever be arrested. He said that after some discussion at the highest levels, it was decided not to pursue that course, an example of the principle of prosecutorial discretion.

He listened, without objection, to the notions that
1. international treaties, once ratified by the Senate, are law
2. the Attorney General recognizes that waterboarding is torture,
3. Bush admitted establishing a program of waterboarding.
It was discreetly not mentioned that the convention against torture, article 4, puts that crime beyond reach of the application of prosecutorial discretion.

He refused to reveal his opinion on the decision to not proescute, most likely because he took part in the dicussions, and it is impolite to reveal one's own contributions. But doubtless there is considerable cognitive dissonance at the highest levels of the DoJ, which may constitute a workplace hazard.

To avoid this risk, the current president should issue a blanket pardon for all white collar crimes committed during the last administration within the White House or at the DoJ. This would bring our actions into a nice conformity with our obligations, although it would raise two troubling thoughts:
1. what is the effect of a national pardon on an international crime
2. might this not suggest that people in power can be expected, in the absence of a pardon, to explain their actions.
On the positive side, it would eliminate the embarrassing possibility that a judge would issue a writ of mandamus to require the Attorney General to uphold the law.

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