The gulag comes to America: The Don Siegelman case
By Ernest Partridge
Online Journal Guest Writer
Feb 1, 2008, 01:00
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."
|Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman|
Less "unbelievable," perhaps, if we reflect upon a
dominant Republican mind-set: politics as warfare, the Democrats are
"evil" and "the enemy," and not "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 whatsoever. Of course, political favors
to donors is routine in both state and federal governments, 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
Siegelman held the distinction of serving in 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
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 cannot 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 44 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 85
U.S. attorneys that Alberto Gonzales saw fit to retain. It is a troubling
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. Such 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
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.
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
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.
For more information about the Seigelman case and
the corruption of justice:
The Don Siegelman
Website. Archives of
News reports about the Siegelman case.
with Don Siegelman, (Take Back the Media, September 13, 2004).
The Raw Story Series:
Part 1. How
a Coterie of Republican Heavyweights Sent a Governor to Jail.
Part 2. Interview
with Siegelman�s daughter, Dana.
Part 3. Running
Elections from the White House,
�Bush League Justice,� Dan Abrams, MSNBC.
Part 1: Civil
Rights Division, Dept. of Justice.
Part 2: The
Part 3: Political
Corruption and the Fired US Attorneys, Dept. of Justice.
Part 4: The
Don Siegelman Case.
Scott Horton interviewed by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales on
(Move ahead, past opening news reports).
Scott Horton�s Harper�s Blogs: June 9, 2007, June 28, 2007.
Copyright � 2008 Ernest Partridge
Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of
Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy
at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He
publishes the website, The Online Gadfly
and co-edits the progressive website, The
Crisis Papers. To see his book in progress, "Conscience of a
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