Siegelman: President Needs to Engage His Moral GPS

Editor's Note: The Justice Integrity Project presents as guest columnist former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman (1999-2003). He was his state's leading Democrat until he was convicted in 2006 of corruption charges trumped up by the Bush Justice Department, as we and others have documented in such investigations as Siegelman Deserves New Trial Because of Judge’s ‘Grudge’, Evidence Shows….$300 Million in Bush Military Contracts Awarded to Judge’s Private Company. An appendix below excerpts sample coverage. The former governor, free on bail pending resentencing before his trial judge, describes in his column below his reaction to our new report, Obama Team Feared Revolt If He Prosecuted War Crimes. Tens of thousands of blog readers have seen the report, based upon on-the-record material. A longer version with more hotlinks is here. As background, Siegelman began public life as a student leader in 1964 calling for peaceful compliance at the first public school to be integrated in Alabama. This was Murphy High School in Mobile in the year following court-ordered integration of the University of Alabama. His state was the scene of other iconic civil rights battles, including the first peaceful protests by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the 1964 bombing of a Birmingham church by racists, killing black children.


By Don Siegelman

Don SiegelmanPeople are guided in their actions by their moral compass, by their moral GPS. If you don't have your moral GPS on, or if you don't have your moral compass locked in, then you're going to be swinging wildly from one direction to the other. But if you're guided by your sense of morality, then you will try to do the right thing. That doesn't always mean you'll succeed. But you can try.

With regard to your [Justice Integrity Project] story about torture, clearly if one's moral compass is locked in, the decision is easy to make that the United States does not tolerate torture as a means of interrogation. The President should have pursued those responsible for implementing torture as a means of interrogation, and could have explained to the country that this is something that we must do, in order for countries throughout the world, and peoples throughout the world, to once again have respect for the United States. He could explain to the people of the United States that his decision to pursue those responsible for torture was going to be unsettling to some high-ranking officials both in the military and those in the former Bush Administration.

If he had done that, if he had laid that predicate to the American people, then it would have been less likely that those who were contemplating retaliating against the President for his investigation of torture would have followed through with their threat. But even if they did then the fight for what is right and just and in the United States' best interest would have been clearly delineated, laid out before the American people, and the American people would have sided with the President in his fight for truth.

Secondly, in regard to the Department of Justice and the fight for justice, and the fight for truth, and the fight to stand up for what is right Barack Obamafor America, and what is in the United States' best interest: It's clear that President Obama [decided] to let [then-Solicitor General] Elena Kagan send her deputy in to the U.S. Supreme Court on January the 4th, 2010, to argue that United States citizens do not have a Constitutional right not to be framed. Said in another way: That the United States government can frame people, knowingly, and intentionally, and willingly, in order to inspire prosecutors to do their best to fight for those things that they think need to be prosecuted.

I think that's a wrong-headed, illogical, immoral position. Yet the President took that position when he allowed the United States government to make that argument to the Supreme Court.

This was in the case of those two black men who served 25 years for a crime they did not commit. They were framed by prosecutors and investigators in Iowa because the investigators and the local prosecutors didn't want to go after a white suspect. They were able to get a young felon to testify against these two black men in exchange for a bribe -- in exchange for a government-sanctioned bribe -- that they would cut this young felon a deal on his sentence if he would be willing to lie about these two black men and help the government convict them. He lied, they got convicted, served 25 years, and then were out suing for damages.

The President needs to engage his moral GPS. He needs to get his moral compass locked in -- while there's still a chance to recoup some value for himself and some legacy of his Administration that all of us can be proud of.


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Below are significant articles relevant to this discussion. See the full article by clicking the link.


Commentary on Siegelman Column

Legal Schnauzer, Siegelman: What Happened to President Obama's Moral Compass? Roger Shuler, Sept.14, 2011.Former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, the most high-profile victim of a Bush-era political prosecution, had a strong reaction to recent news that advisors to Barack Obama feared a coup if the administration pursued prosecutions for war crimes. ”Clearly if one's moral compass is locked in, the decision is easy to make that the United States does not tolerate torture as a means of interrogation.”

Obama Transition Story

Listed below are multiple versions of a Justice Integrity Project column first published on this site at its greatest length and with the most hotlinks as sources:

Justice Integrity Project, Obama Team Feared Coup If He Prosecuted War Crimes, Andrew Kreig, Sept. 7, 2011. President-Elect Obama’s advisers feared in 2008 that authorities would revolt and that Republicans would block his policy agenda if he prosecuted Bush-era war crimes, according to a law school dean who served as one of Obama’s top transition advisers.  University of California at Berkeley Law School Dean Christopher Edley, Jr., he sixth highest-ranking member of the 2008 post-election transition team preparing Obama's administration, revealed the team's thinking on Sept. 2 in moderating a forum on 9/11 held by his law school (also known as Boalt Hall).

Other versions are more concise, with the most recent first. They are distinguished in significant part by their reader comments. Those receiving the most comments are noted.


The Justice Integrity Project thanks Susan Harman for the first interview, David Swanson for the first blog, Boalt Hall Dean Christopher  Edley, Jr. for his graciousness in responding to questions, and Michael Collins and Roger Shuler for their extensive followups. We welcome additions to this list, especially any coverage pro or con by the mainstream media.


Accountability in Justice

Bob GrahamMSNBC /Raw Story/ Washington's Blog, Co-Chair of the Congressional Inquiry Into 9/11 – and Former Head of the Senate Intelligence Committee – Calls for a New 9/11 Investigation, Sept. 13, 2011. The Co-Chair of the Congressional Inquiry into 9/11 and former Head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Bob Graham, right, today called for a new 9/11 investigation. As Raw Story notes: "Graham on Monday called on the U.S. government to reopen its investigation into 9/11 after a report found that links between Saudi Arabia and the hijackers were never disclosed by the FBI to the 2002 joint Congressional intelligence committee investigating the attacks."

Huffington Post / MSNBC, President Obama, End the Saudi Mystery Around 9/11, Dylan Ratigan, Sept. 13, 2011. I think it's time the government came clean with us about the true face of petro-politics. That face is very, very ugly, and extremely dangerous, but it's time we learn the truth. For ten years, the U.S. government has kept secret the Saudi connection to the 9/11 hijackers.

PBS Frontline / WGHB-V (Boston), An extended conversation with Ali Soufan, an FBI agent who was at the center of the 9/11 investigations, Martin Smith, Sept. 13, 2011 (Video 28:25 min.).

Alternet, Could Bush Be Prosecuted for War Crimes? A Nuremberg chief prosecutor says there is a case for trying Bush for the 'supreme crime against humanity, an illegal war of aggression against a sovereign nation,' Jan Frel, July 10, 2006.  Perhaps no person on the planet is better equipped to identify and describe our crimes in Iraq than Benjamin Ferencz, a former chief prosecutor of the Nuremberg Trials who successfully convicted 22 Nazi officers for their work in orchestrating death squads that killed more than one million people in the famous Einsatzgruppen Case. Ferencz, now 87, has gone on to become a founding father of the basis behind international law regarding war crimes, and his essays and legal work drawing from the Nuremberg trials and later the commission that established the International Criminal Court remain a lasting influence in that realm.

Interviewed from his home in New York, Ferencz laid out a simple summary of the case: Ferencz called the invasion a "clear breach of law," and dismissed the Bush administration's legal defense that previous U.N. Security Council resolutions dating back to the first Gulf War justified an invasion in 2003. Ferencz notes that the first Bush president believed that the United States didn't have a U.N. mandate to go into Iraq and take out Saddam Hussein; that authorization was simply to eject Hussein from Kuwait. Ferencz asked, "So how do we get authorization more than a decade later to finish the job? The arguments made to defend this are not persuasive."

Dick Cheney CoverMargie Burns, Rumsfeld and Cheney pressured CIA to mislead Congress in the 1970s, Margie Burn, Sept. 13, 2011. The first time Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld pressured the Central Intelligence Agency to mislead Congress was in 1975 and 1976, when Cheney was chief of staff to President Gerald Ford and Rumsfeld was Ford’s secretary of defense. (Cheney, having held a series of positions alongside Rumsfeld—starting under him in the Nixon administration–also became campaign manager for Ford’s reelection campaign.) George H. W. Bush headed the CIA, appointed by Jerry Ford when Ford switched Rumsfeld from White House Chief of Staff to Secretary of Defense.

Time Magazine, Beyond 9/11: Valerie Plame Wilson, Staff reports, Sept. 12, 2011. Video (7 min.). "We live in what I believe to be the greatest democracy in the world. With all its failings, it's still the best model that we've come up with, and it is really imperative that people take the last decade and the lessons learned and make sure that you apply them and hold your public officials to account."

Alabama Prosecution and Political News

Karl RoveLegal Schnauzer, Fears From 9/11 Provide Cover for the Real Threats to Our Democracy, Roger Shuler, Sept.12, 2011. Do you want a date that truly represents a threat to our democracy? I will give you one -- and it comes from deep in the heart of Alabama, my home state. It's October 20, 1995, the day a man named Perry O. Hooper was sworn in as the first Republican chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. Hooper's swearing in marked the successful launch of a campaign--funded largely by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and orchestrated by two relatively unknown GOP operatives--to take over state high courts. Who were the GOP operatives? One was William Canary, head of the Business Council of Alabama. The other was Karl Rove, who already had a reputation for dirty tricks in Texas but had a low profile on the national stage.

Legal Schnauzer, Choctaws Faced Huge Debt Payment When Bob Riley Launched Bingo Raids in Alabama, Roger Shuler, Sept. 6, 2011. The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians were facing about $80 million in looming debt when former Alabama Governor Bob Riley launched a series of raids against bingo facilities in his state. Was Riley trying to help the Choctaws by stamping out competitors in Alabama? Given that Riley reportedly benefited from at least $13 million of Mississippi gaming money in the 2002 race for governor, the likely answer is yes. And that means the federal bingo trial that recently ended with no convictions--but is scheduled to be retried--almost certainly was driven by Riley's efforts to harm businesses in his own state.

Bob rileyLegal Schnazuer, Bob Riley's Bingo Raids Cost Alabama Taxpayers Almost $4 Million, Roger Shuler, Sept. 9, 2011. In the kind of real journalism that is all too rare in Alabama, Jon Paepcke of Birmingham's WVTM reveals that Riley's anti-gambling task force spent $3.95 million -- and asks, "Was that money well spent?"  Former Alabama Attorney General Troy King has a ready answer: “I guess it depends on what they wanted. If they wanted fireworks and theatrics and they wanted to see state troopers swarming into business parking lots. If that's what they wanted, then they got it in spades,” King argued.

Justice Integrity Project, Feds Lose Big In Alabama Bribery Acquittals, Hung Jury, Andrew Kreig, Aug. 11, 2011. Federal prosecutors suffered one of their most remarkable setbacks nationally in decades Aug. 11 when an Alabama federal jury failed to convict any of nine defendants on any count in a massive gambling corruption case against state senators and those accused of trying to bribe them.

Siegelman-Scrushy Case

Robert HinkleJustice Integrity Project, Florida Judge Continues Whitewash of Siegelman Frame-up, Andrew Kreig, July 11, 2011. A Florida federal judge has ruled that former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman and his co-defendant have been treated so fairly that no one can reasonably suspect the appearance of bias. The decision by U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle denied a hearing or other discovery on whether Siegelman’s trial judge should be recused. Hinkle thus continued the whitewash of the nation’s most notorious political prosecution of the decade. Hinkle's decision absolving Chief U.S,. District Judge Mark E. Fuller of Alabama's Montgomery-based Middle District carries the veneer of independence and fairness. But Hinkle trivializes Fuller's mind-boggling irregularities and his legal duty to avoid even the appearance of unfairness. Most important, Hinkle severely undermines public confidence in the judiciary when he protects his colleague Fuller from scrutiny regarding the fabulous sums Fuller has been making Frank M. Johnson on the side while implementing the Bush administration's long jihad against Siegelman, his state's most prominent Democrat.

George BeckJustice Integrity Project, Justice Irregularities In Alabama Continue Disgrace, Andrew Kreig, July 4, 2011. The U.S. Senate approved by voice vote June 30 a new U.S. attorney for Alabama, thereby extending a series of disgraces blighting the federal justice system in that state and nationally. The Senate voted to approve George Beck, 69, to run the Middle District office in Alabama’s capital city of Montgomery. The Senate failed to require that Beck, left, appear at a hearing to answer questions about a host of pending issues involving his role in the Siegelman case and presumed requirement to recuse himself and his top subordinates from the case and its spin-offs.

Huffington Post, Alabama Decisions Illustrate Abuse of Judicial Power, June 10, 2009. The plight of litigants who face a biased judge is illustrated by the track record of a prominent Alabama federal judge, as well by major recent decisions requiring new trials in West Virginia and Georgia courts. The track record of Chief U.S. District Judge Mark E. Fuller of Montgomery, Alabama shows that he continues to supervise cases compromised by his personal, financial or political interests despite his promise at his 2002 confirmation hearing to recuse himself from any conflicts. Exposure of Fuller's record is timely because of the Senate's forthcoming hearings for Obama administration judicial nominees, and because of growing concerns about the recusal standard. These include the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling June 8 that a West Virginia Supreme Court judge should have recused himself from a case involving a major contributor to his judicial election campaign. Also, a federal judge in Georgia admitted last month that he shouldn't have tried and sentenced a high-profile political adversary who now seeks dismissal of the charges. 

U.W. ClemonHuffington Post, Siegelman's First Trial Judge Blasts U.S. Prosecutors, Seeks Probe of 'Unfounded' Charges, May 21, 2009. One of the most experienced federal judges in recent Alabama history is denouncing the U.S. Justice Department prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. Retired Chief U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon, fight, of Birmingham calls for a probe of misconduct by federal prosecutors ─ including their alleged "judge-shopping," jury-pool "poisoning" and "unfounded" criminal charges in an effort to imprison Siegelman.

Mark FullerHuffington Post, Siegelman Deserves New Trial Because of Judge’s ‘Grudge’, Evidence Shows….$300 Million in Bush Military Contracts Awarded to Judge’s Private Company, May 15, 2009. Mark Fuller, the Alabama federal judge who presided over the 2006 corruption trial of the state's former governor, holds a grudge against the defendant for helping to expose the judge's own alleged corruption six years ago. Former Gov. Don Siegelman therefore deserves a new trial with an unbiased judge ─ not one whose privately owned company, Doss Aviation, has been enriched by the Bush administration's award of $300 million in contracts since 2006, making the judge millions in non-judicial income. Fulleris portrayed at left in a Phil Fleming portrait the judge requested minutes after the verdict in 2006.

Contracting Oversight

Washington Post, End of VA honor system cuts 70 percent of vendors with veteran status, Leah Nylen and Kathleen Miller, Sept. 12, 2012. Since 2008, the Department of Veterans Affairs has awarded billions of dollars in contracts under a program to steer work to firms owned by veterans without requiring proof of their eligibility for the funding. A new mandate forcing companies to prove their ownership and management status has led to the removal of at least 18,800 companies from the VA vendor preference list, the government said. Until last year, contractors were able to self-certify their status as veteran-owned businesses.Washington Post, Audit finds fault in whistleblower program run by IRS, Lisa Rein, Sept. 12, 2012. Claims as far back as 2007 are tied up in red tape.