The strangely contradictory world of Eric Holder and the US Department of Justice continues to get stranger and more contradictory by the minute. Just today, for example, he is being lauded as a hope for bringing civil rights charges against the acquitted George Zimmerman (something that may prove difficult, if not impossible), while also speaking out against Florida’s infamous “stand your ground” laws. At the same time, he was under fire in a poignant New York Times opinion piece against the drone attack that killed the son of accused terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki in an open air café in Yemen in 2011.
The mood swings of the US Department in Justice, ostensibly tied to their interpretation of federal law, are many. On the one hand, the DOJ, through assistant attorney General Tom Perez, (just confirmed as Secretary of Labor) have prosecuted rogue Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio over his gross mistreatment of undocumented immigrants, and forced the Puerto Rico police department to accept massive reforms, something cemented yesterday when Holder announced a $10 million grant to aid the process.
But in addition to providing the legal rationale for the Obama administration’s continued unarmed drone strikes in various Middle East countries–which often cause the death of civilians and sometimes US citizens–the DOJ is currently prosecuting whistleblower Bradley Manning as well as pursuing NSA leaker Edward Snowden. Union Theological Seminary professor Cornell West expressed his concerns with this haunting tweet the other day: “Is Obama as committed to justice for Trayvon as he is to prosecuting Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden?”
Obama and Holder have also been slow to affect any change on current conditions in the holding facility in Guantánamo, where detainees are held for years without charges. Recent accounts of force-feeding of detainees are disheartening to say the least. Just two weeks ago the DOJ urged a US District court from intervening at Guantánamo, adding that “the force-feeding will not compromise prisoners’ religious rights because it will be done only at night during Ramadan.”
Holding the DOJ accountable can be uncomfortable from a progressive position, since Holder and Justice have been under incessant attack by right-wing Republican blogs and congressmen since he assumed leadership as Attorney General. But while the so-called IRS scandal has proven to be overblown, DOJ has raised serious concern over its surveillance of journalists, even if they’re from FOX news. Holder can justifiably be characterized as part of the “revolving door” phenomenon in Washington where erstwhile public servants shift back and forth between government and K Street lobby shops.
It’s hard to ignore the fact that Holder most likely was given his position as a reward for being one of Obama’s top bundlers, or collector of massive campaign contributions leading up to his election in 2008. From 2001-2008, he worked at K Street shop Covington and Burling, where high-profile DOJ attorney Lanny Breuer recently returned to work. Now this is the kind of stuff that you find all over the Republican blogs, but that doesn’t mean there’s no cause for concern. The DOJ attorney under the most fire recently for both the NSA and AP/Fox News surveillance scandals, James Cole, was hired directly from K Street firm Bryan Cave, also a former home of Obama campaign senior advisor Broderick Johnson. This Salon piece says Johnson once lobbied for the TransCanada Keystone pipeline.
So, you might ask, can justice be achieved by the Department of Justice? An optimist would say that it can by balancing the people’s and corporate interests through a just application of federal law. A pessimist would say it’s already been bought and paid for, and we can only hope some part of it will trickle down to the rest of us.