If you read the news at all, you have probably read about the death of Internet activist Aaron Swartz.who committed suicide after an overzealous federal prosecutor targeted with a crusade of arbitrary intimidation and prosecutorial recklessness. Why do prosecutors do this? The answer is simple: Because they can.
Prosecutors have enormous power. Even investigations that don’t result in any charges can ruin lives, ruin reputations, and drive their targets into bankruptcy. It has become an overtly political position — in general, but particularly at the federal level. If a prosecutor wants to ruin your life, he or she can. Even if you’ve done nothing wrong, there isn’t a whole lot you can do about it.
Balko goes on to list, item by item, the circumstances in our justice system that make this kind of abuse not only possible, but inevitable. And brace yourselves, because it is going to continue to get worse. Unfortunately most people don’t care about it until it happens to them and they are suddenly confronted by the fact that they are all alone, because no one cares until it happens to them.
Glenn Greenwald comes down hard on these prosecutors today as well with this concise characterization of the Federal government’s twisted sense of justice:
The US has become a society in which political and financial elites systematically evade accountability for their bad acts, no matter how destructive. Those who torture, illegally eavesdrop, commit systemic financial fraud, even launder money for designated terrorists and drug dealers are all protected from criminal liability, while those who are powerless – or especially, as in Swartz’s case, those who challenge power – are mercilessly punished for trivial transgressions.
It’s not always the federal government. There is probably no better example of prosecutors whose ambition for political fame and fortune have left a swath of destroyed lives in their wake than the daycare sex abuse debacle of the 80s and 90s. The state attorneys leveraged off of people’s natural emotion toward children to create a panic that they then used to catapult their careers into positions at the highest levels of the state and federal justice system. Unfortunately, many of the victims of their self-serving campaign still languish in prison. While many of the convictions were ultimately over-turned or commuted, there were never any serious repercussions for the calamitous abuse of power by the prosecutors.