Sunday, March 1, 2009

Crime without punishment?


Michael Conahan & Mark Ciavarella, leave the federal courthouse in Scranton, Pennsylvania, on Thursday, Feb. 12, 2009. Prosecutors say Luzerne County Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan took $2.6 million in payoffs to put juvenile offenders in lockups run by PA Child Care LLC and a sister company, Western PA Child Care LLC. (Photo:

We know to our cost that democracy breeds corruption. Because it happens at all levels and at all times in India, we think this is an Indian phenomenon. But watch the scene for a few weeks and we'll see how even America, the "land of the free," is gripped by corruption.

Voluntary organisations like Countercurrents and Social Conscience may sometimes exaggerate their case. The headline of one of their articles is: "America is spelt c-o-r-r-u-p-t-i-o-n." But they make their point. The power of lobbies is so great that the entire political structure is open to manipulation. Lobbying is legally recognised and has become perhaps the biggest industry in Washington DC. It works by offering all kinds of incentives to legislators. Naturally a tradition developed whereby America was run by its giant corporations. There are also political influence groups like the Jewish lobby and the Gun lobby. Even in medical and legal fields bribery is recognised as a serious problem.

But America does not drown in this sea. It stays afloat. The reason is that very often the guilty get punished. Richard Nixon was forced to resign. George Bush has become a detested figure rivaled only by his Vice President Dick Cheney who is seen as an evil genius who masterminded the Iraq war for personal profit.

True, these men were not punished as they should have been. Nixon was granted a full pardon by Gerald Ford who succeeded him. This meant that he was never prosecuted for his criminalities. Bush and Cheney will not be brought before the International Court or the War Crimes Tribunal to be tried for the killings and tortures they ordered.

These may be seen as an exception the American system allows for their presidents. At other levels, however, punishments follow crime. One big reason is that career civil servants function independently of politicians. Upon coming to power, a party does not start transferring civil servants to suit its political agenda. US attorneys in particular are known to pursue investigations without political pressure.

Not long ago, the Mayor of Detroit (mayors and governors in the US are executives with power over the police) was sent to jail for 99 days for corruption and assault. The Governor of Illinois was impeached out of office for bribery. There was no attempt to provide escape routes for these men. Nor was there any strategem to put a Rabri Devi in office when a Lalu Prasad was found guilty.

In a sensational case last month, two judges were arrested for kickbacks. This is a uniquely American case. There are private prisons in America run by private companies for profit. The profit depends on enough people being sentenced to jail. One judge in Pennsylvania conspired to get the necessary licence for the jail
concerned. The other judge began sentencing under-age children to prison even for minor offences like making fun of a teacher. The ironically named PA Child Care prison was soon full, each inmate paying $314 per day. The judges got more than $2 million in kickbacks. Now both will get seven years in jail, lose their pensions and face prosecutions by hundreds of families whose children had their lives ruined by the criminal judgements.

Another judge in Mississippi, arrested for corruption, was produced in jail in handcuffs and leg chains.

Several judges in India have been implicated in corruption cases. One was even impeached. But all escaped punishment. America's blessing is that exemplary punishment to the corrupt keep people's faith in the system alive. Countries that allow criminals to escape destroy the very system that sustains them.

Related Story: