Cynthia Rozell: American values: the Rule of Law
July 16, 2007
Steamboat Springs — Editor’s note: Because of an error by the Pilot & Today, the following Cynthia Rozell column was credited to another author on page 4A of Sunday’s newspaper.
There are many differences between life in nondemocratic and underdeveloped societies and life in America. Political scientists and economists cite four characteristics that set America apart. They say we Americans: (1) share a belief in the dignity of man and respect for basic human rights; (2) value hard work and the right of each person to prosper from his work; (3) cherish the right to equal treatment under a legal system created and adjudicated by fellow citizens; and (4) protect our right to elect our nation’s leaders.
Our forefathers fled to America from societies without these characteristics, and they built a great nation in which these values are fundamental to our way of life. Over time, we have revisited these tenets, and each time we reaffirmed our belief in them; e.g., by freeing slaves and extending voting rights to women. We have never accepted a monarch who rules by birth-right nor a dictator who rules by force. Our citizens exercise their right to choose our leaders, and our elected leaders swear their allegiance to the Constitution of the United States, the authority that governs all Americans, including them.
Unfortunately, the Rule of Law in America is facing rough times these days. Like many Americans, I was shocked at President Bush’s decision to overrule our justice system by commuting the sentence of Scooter Libby. And I was shocked by the amount of money Scooter’s friends paid to free him from punishment. Can it be that our government leaders and the wealthy friends of criminals now decide how much punishment is “enough?”
The facts are simple: Scooter Libby, a government official whose salary is paid by American taxpayers, held a position of trust in the White House. Scooter Libby lied to a Federal Grand Jury in a Federal investigation. That is perjury. By lying, he obfuscated the facts in a criminal investigation. That is obstruction of justice. He was tried under the laws of our land by a jury of his peers – average American citizens – and he was found guilty. He was sentenced in accordance with the guidelines that apply to convicted criminals of similar crimes. That sentence included imprisonment. But, thanks to friends in high places, Scooter Libby will not go to jail.
At another time, the facts in a similar case were equally clear. Officials in the Nixon White House, Misters Erlichman, Haldeman, Dean, Mitchell and Macgruder, lied to a federal Grand Jury. That was perjury. They obfuscated a criminal investigation. That was obstruction of justice. They, too, were tried by a jury of their peers and found guilty. They were sentenced. All five went to prison.
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In 1975, that embattled President chose neither to commute the sentences of his colleagues nor to pardon them. Instead, he became convinced our nation saw these crimes as evidence of the corruption of his administration. That president resigned.
Why doesn’t our current President see that his extra-legal intervention in the Libby case is a corruption of our justice system? It dishonors the Rule of Law that governs all Americans. It dishonors the office of the presidency itself. Perhaps, he believes it is his right to dispense justice or to free his cronies like a monarch or a dictator. Perhaps he believes the whole affair is just “politics as usual.”
No, Mr. President, committing felonies is not “politics as usual.” Scooter Libby is guilty of crimes that are contrary to our American values; crimes that demand punishment. The Rule of Law needs to be upheld in our country, Mr. President, especially now and especially by you.
Rozell worked as a senior official and commissioned member of the Senior Foreign Service in the Clinton and Bush administrations on foreign assistance policy. Specifically, she worked on fostering the development of economic and political democracies in Southern Africa and Latin America. Rozell is a full-time Steamboat Springs resident and owns a small consulting firm specializing in the management of political and economic development programs.