|Injustice in the US Justice System | John Perkins | 12 Oct 2021|
Purdue Pharma, the maker of the highly addictive painkiller OxyContin, was dissolved on Wednesday in a wide-ranging bankruptcy settlement . . .But the agreement includes a much-disputed condition: It largely absolves the Sacklers of Purdue’s opioid-related liability. And as such, they will remain among the richest families in the country.
-The New York Times, Sept 17,2021 (1)
Steven Donziger, the US indigenous rights campaigner and lawyer who spent decades battling the energy firm Chevron over pollution in the Ecuadorian rainforest, was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment on Friday for criminal contempt charges arising from a lawsuit brought by the oil giant.
Friday’s sentence, handed down by federal judge Loretta Preska in Manhattan, came a day after he asked the court to consider an opinion by independent United Nations experts that found his court-ordered home confinement of more than two years was a violation of international human rights law.
The UN experts’ opinion said the US breached international law by putting Donziger under house arrest for about four times the maximum sentence of six months that he has now received in his contempt case.
-The Guardian, Oct 1, 2021 (2)
The cases above are just two of the hundreds of examples of how corporations and their owners and executives get away with heinous crimes in the United States while individuals who seek to expose such crimes are persecuted.
Whether members of the Sackler family personally prescribed opioids or Donziger is guilty of contempt of court should not be the driving issues. The simple fact is that countless numbers of Americans and Ecuadorians died because of decisions made by ruthless, greed-driven Purdue Pharma and Chevron executives. And not one of them is held responsible.
Over and over, we hear of corporations that are found guilty of criminal actions. However, buried beneath the sensationalized stories is the real news: Individuals within corporations are the guilty parties. People, not corporations, make decisions. And yet the guilty parties, the criminals, almost always go free.
The list of corporations that have been found guilty or pleaded “no contest” to felonies in the US and not had their convictions overturned on appeal is extensive and reaches across the spectrum of business sectors. It includes such giants as Archer Daniels Midland, BP, British Airways, General Electric, Pfizer, International Paper, PG&E, Samsung, Tyson Foods, Waste Management Inc., and many more. (3)
Wall Street is a prime example. As reported in The Marketplace:
Why didn’t any Wall Street CEO go to jail after the financial crisis? . . .The financial crisis of 2008 altered so many lives: Millions of people lost their homes, their jobs, and their savings. It set off a recession that collectively destroyed over $30 trillion of the world’s wealth. And though the crisis grew out of big banks’ handling of mortgage-backed securities, no Wall Street executive went to jail for it. (4)
Americans like to point the finger at corruption elsewhere. We rail against the power elites and attacks on civil rights and freedom of the press in China, Russia, and other countries. While such condemnation is totally justified, it has little or no impact on those other countries, especially since it is seen throughout most of the world as American hypocrisy.
By turning a blind eye on the failures of our own justice system, we perpetuate a global model that allows the rich and powerful to quite literally “get away with murder.” Yet, it is difficult to define these many US examples as anything other than corruption. Whether judges accept outright bribes, own stock, or are driven by some other motives, it seems clear that many of them are strongly biased in favor of Big Business.
It does not have to be this way.
Iceland provides a model of a judicial system that took a very different path. From Bloomberg:
Kviabryggia Prison in western Iceland . . . is where the world’s only bank chiefs imprisoned in connection with the 2008 financial crisis are serving their sentences. . . In sentencing these financiers to serve terms of up to 5½ years, the Icelandic courts have done something authorities in the world’s two great banking capitals, New York and London, haven’t: They’ve made bankers answer for the crimes of the crash. (5)
If the US is to have a chance of offering the world a model of anything approaching democracy, social justice, and a fair legal system, we need to demand that our judges, our media, and our elected representatives focus on the real issues. The human decision-makers behind the opioid, banking, environmental, and other corporate crimes must be punished. Those humans that fight against such crimes, like Steven Donziger, should decorate the covers of our magazines as heroes the world’s children will want to emulate.
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