Monday, December 17, 2012

Blind Justice

Pfc. Bradley Manning's trial moves ahead- slowly. He has agreed to plead guilty to various charges of releasing classified information, while not accepting a guilty plea for charges such as espionage or aiding and abetting “the enemy”. The information he released revealed criminal and unethical activity by personnel within the Department of Defense and the State Department, as well as criminal activity by private military contractors. No evidence has surfaced that Manning profited in any way from his actions, or that he was motivated by any prospect of personal gain. Rather, he felt compelled to act to reveal evidence that he had access to of outrageous activity of the part of people working for the US Government. Some of the activities revealed were simply routine diplomacy, i.e. duplicitous acts and statements by diplomats of the US and countries it deals with, and the revelations may have caused some embarrassment all around. However, more central to the activities unveiled were torture, murder, incitement to torture, and official cover-ups of criminal acts. For his actions Manning was held in solitary confinement without charges for a year and a half and he remains in custody today, with no possibility of bail. While his living conditions have improved significantly after a public outcry over his treatment, which a number of psychiatrists have said amounted to torture, he now faces formal charges which could lead to life imprisonment, if not the death penalty that some members of Congress and other media luminaries have called for. The formal charges were only lodged in late February of 2012, nineteen months after his arrest. To the best of our knowledge, there has still been no prosecution of any of the perpetrators of the crimes that were disclosed, and there seems little desire on the part of the Department of Justice to investigate.

Against that backdrop, the news has emerged that HSBC, one of the world's largest banks, has agreed to pay a large fine, described by different sources as either $1.25 billion or $1.9 billion, for illegal banking activities over a three or four year period in which the bank laundered money on behalf of Mexican drug cartels and Al Qaeda Given that the US is in a permanent War on Drugs and another permanent War On Terrorism, this would seem to qualify as aiding and abetting the enemy, if anything can ever be considered as such.

Loretta Lynch, US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, issued the following statement:
Loretta Lynch: We are here today to announce the filing of criminal charges against HSBC Bank, both its U.S. entity, HSBC U.S., and the parent HSBC group, for its sustained and systemic failure to guard against the corruption of our financial system by drug traffickers and other criminals and for evading U.S. sanctions law. HSBC, as you know, is one of the largest financial institutions in the world, with affiliates and personnel spanning the globe. Yet during the relevant time periods, they failed to comply with the legal requirements incumbent on all U.S. financial institutions to have in place compliance mechanisms and safeguards to guard against being used for money laundering.
HSBC has admitted its guilt to the four-count information filed today, which sets forth two violations of the Bank Secrecy Act, a violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, or IEEPA, and violation of the Trading with the Enemy Act. As part of its resolution of these charges, HSBC has agreed to forfeit $1.256 billion, the largest forfeiture amount ever by a financial institution for a compliance failure.
The Justice Department has allowed the bank to avoid prosecution. Old habits die hard. None of the top officials of the bank will face charges, much less be seized and thrown into solitary confinement. If you want to see more detail on this case, see the entire Matt Taibbi article here.

It seems that Pfc. Manning's worst crime was to not make enough money through his whistle-blowing disclosures to buy his way out of jail. With the government strapped for cash these days, $1 billion clearly buys a lot of immunity. Who knows, perhaps a few million would have been enough to swing our laissez faire Department of Justice. Maybe, with a little more cash, Manning, like HSBC Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver, could have just apologized for his actions, handed over whatever profits he'd made through his actions, and promised to do better in the future.


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