With liberty and justice for some : how the law is used to destroy equality and protect the powerful

by Glenn Greenwald

Paper Book, 2011


From "the most important voice to have entered the political discourse in years" (Bill Moyers), a scathing critique of the two-tiered system of justice that has emerged in America From the nation's beginnings, the law was to be the great equalizer in American life, the guarantor of a common set of rules for all. But over the past four decades, the principle of equality before the law has been effectively abolished. Instead, a two-tiered system of justice ensures that the country's political and financial class is virtually immune from prosecution, licensed to act without restraint, while the politically powerless are imprisoned with greater ease and in greater numbersthan in any other country in the world. Starting with Watergate, continuing on through the Iran-Contra scandal, and culminating with Obama's shielding of Bush-era officials from prosecution, Glenn Greenwald lays bare the mechanisms that have come to shield the elite from accountability. He shows how the media, both political parties, and the courts have abetted a process that has produced torture, war crimes, domestic spying, and financial fraud. Cogent, sharp, and urgent, this is a no-holds-barred indictment of a profoundly un-American system that sanctions immunity at the top and mercilessness for everyone else.… (more)



Call number



New York : Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt and Co., 2011.

User reviews

LibraryThing member arubabookwoman
This is an ER review.

Glenn Greenwald is a constitutional lawyer and columnist for Salon.com. I've followed his blogs for 6 or 7 years, and he is always informed (and informative), factual, logical, and often frightening in his analyses of the assaults on our democracy and civil liberties. This, his
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third and most recent book, is no exception.

The central principle of the founding of the United States was that it was a nation of laws, not men. The fundamental requirement for a rule of law is uniform application of the law to everyone, including leaders. When law is applied only to the powerless, it becomes a tool of oppression, rather than a safeguard of liberty.

Greenwald's thesis is that not only is it the case that the powerful enjoy some advantages in the application of law in our judicial system, but that the powerful are now routinely allowed to break the law with no repercussions whatsoever. In clear, straight-forward language Greenwald lays out the history of this erosion, beginning with the crimes surrounding the Watergate break-in and coverup. Nixon, who inarguably committed serious felonies, was shielded from all legal consequences by the pardon of his handpicked vice president. Ford's statement, "Our long national nightmare is over..", and the reasons he advanced for the pardon, have been repeated so often since then that they have almost become cliche:

--Prosecution mires us in the divisive past when we should be looking forward;
--It's wrong to criminalize policy disputes;
--Political elites who commit crimes while carrying out their duties are well-intentioned and acting for the overall good;
--Being forced out of office with damaged reputation is punishment enough.

With incontrovertible facts, Greenwald also guides us through the Iran-Contra affair in which White House officials clearly and knowingly broke specific laws and lied to Congress. In fact, when the International Court of Justice ruled in favor of Nicuaragua and ordered the payment of compensation, Reagan refused to comply, and used the US's veto power on the UN Security Council to prevent efforts by the United Nations to enforce the judgement. Geenwald also details the documented crimes committed by the Bush administration--torture, warrantless eavesdropping, CIA "black holes" and renditins, politicized prosecutions, obstruction of justice, Scooter Libby, etc.--and the reasons advanced for ignoring them.

From these and other crimes the idea of "elite immunity" has emerged--some people are just so indispensable to the running of America that giving them immunity is not only in their best interest, but is in our best interest too. This idea has carried over into immunity for those in the private sector who are "too important" to prosecute. For example the wireless companies who were complicit in the violations of FISA were granted retroactive immunity by Congress--a nearly unprecedented departure from the norms of the rule of law. The rationale was that these companies were motivated solely by their feelings of patriotic duty, despite the fact that the one company that refused the government's requests to break the law was threatened with the loss of government contracts while compliant companies were paid millions. Elite immunity has become further embedded because of the revolving door that exists between government officials and private industry. Its latest manifestation is the failure for there to be any consequences for those who perpetrated the financial melt-down of 2008, and the ensuing mortgage foreclosure scandals.

Obama has continued policies eroding the rule of law, although he campaigned on promises to restore the rule of law. Almost immediately after taking office, he blocked and suppressed all investigations of the Bush administration with the excuse that the country needs to look forward, not backwards. Obama has gone so far as to threaten Great Britain with withholding US intelligence regarding terrorists if Great Britain investigated claims of torture by a British resident who was held captive at Guantanamo for 6 years. He also closed the investigation of the destruction by the CIA of videos relating to the torture of terror suspects it was expressly ordered to keep.

Most of the facts set forth in this book are and have been readily available, and are probably well-known to those who follow politics and law and are interested in the truth. The book is stunning in that it sets forth cogently and logically the story of how much our democracy has eroded. While an initial reaction to reading the book might be to close one's eyes in despair, knowledge is the first step to correcting these inequities. I urge you to read this book. Even if it sounds as though the book is on the opposite political spectrum from yours, this book is important if we are again to become a nation of laws. 4 stars
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LibraryThing member peptastic
What a profoundly relevant and necessary book about the two tiered justice system in American politics.Greenwald's take is that todays gross misconduct to protect the politically powerful started when President Ford pardoned President Nixon. He used the same line about looking forward not backwards
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that President Obama used to not only condone but retroactively immunize President Bush wiretapping , banking crisis, mortgage crisis and torture crimes and the Obama administrations own crimes. For make no mistake the waterboarding continues.This chain of events eventually led to how the private banking sector as well as the telecoms received immunity.The way the auto companies were given strict regulations for bailout money but the banking sector couldn't be stopped giving large bonuses. Why were the auto employees benefits taken then?Greenwald makes a very strong case in his explanation with direct quotes from Eric Holder, the press and politicians WHY the political and financial elite escape with no attempt of justice. Apparently in the spirit of bipartisanship you don't want the next political office to investigate your own administration.The hypocrisy doesn't end there as the not looking back but forward doesn't hold true for other nations who give their powerful immunity.Then you can't move forward without charging criminals.Greenwald also covers America's vast prison state and increasingly harsher sentencing that is "bipartisan" and the financial sector who runs the prisons which has a hand in shaping our drug laws.Last but not least the vast disparity in the Obama administration to go after whistleblowers but never the criminals themselves.If you follow his blog at all you'll be familar with this topic but despite some criticisms that he repeats himself people need to read this. Too many people actually aren't aware of torture convention and really do think torture of non prisoners of war is legal because of the Geneva convention.I recommend this book to everyone. I'm a regular follower of Greenwald's column at salon.com. He's fair, well researched and never gives over to hyperbole. America never had a problem with a rich class but when the laws don't apply to them and they write the laws with an agenda to lengthen prison sentences then we are no longer a country of laws but rule of man.
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LibraryThing member katkat50
Anyone who has read Glenn Greenwald's Salon blog knows his passion for exposing the way constitutional rights and protections have been eroded in the United States. Each of his previous three books -- "How Would a Patriot Act?" (about standing up to the erosion of traditional American values and
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ideals under George W. Bush), "A Tragic Legacy" (about the Bush administration's manichean world view), and "Great American Hypocrites" (about Republican political myth-making), focuses on particular aspects of the war on law and democracy that began the day after 9/11 and that continue today under President Barack Obama.

In "With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful," Greenwald turns his magnifying glass on the bedrock American concept of equality before the law -- the idea that, no matter how unequal individuals may be in terms of economic and social standing, all are equal in the eyes of the law. This principle, cherished by the men who founded our country -- men who certainly were not egalitarians in other ways -- has always been the mechanism for leveling the playing field between vastly unequal players. However, in the last several decades, equality before the law has been replaced by a system in which wealth and power, rather than the rule of law, determine the consequences of law-breaking.

Greenwald argues that Ford's pardon of Nixon for his role in the Watergate scandal created a precedent of legal immunity that has protected highly placed government officials from legal accountability ever since. The exoneration of Lt. Col. Oliver North for Iran-Contra, and of several key leaders in the Reagan administration -- notably, John Poindexter, Robert McFarlane, Caspar Weinberger, and Elliott Abrams -- as well as the acceptance -- indeed, active approval -- of those exonerations in the corporate media, flowed directly from the example Pres. Ford set when he pardoned Richard Nixon.

From these, of course, it's a not-so-giant step to the legal predations of warrantless wiretapping and public boasting by former president and vice-president George W. Bush and Dick Cheney about having authorized waterboarding on un-charged, un-tried prisoners, in the 100 percent confidence their public admission to torture will not result in criminal investigations, much less trials or convictions.

Greenwald also examines the extension of legal immunity to corporate, as well as government, elites, and the brazen consolidation of the private and public sectors facilitated by armies of lobbyists who are paid fortunes to bribe members of Congress -- in both parties -- to sponsor, write, support, and vote for legislation that serves the interests of corporate CEOs and their major stockholders.

Some of the early reviews of "With Liberty and Justice for Some" have suggested that the book's unremitting tone of outrage gets wearisome, even to those who agree with Greenwald's conclusions and are totally sympathetic to his premise that our increasingly two-tiered system of law and justice is making a mockery of American pretensions to democracy. I will admit that I become discouraged when Greenwald declares that ".... democratic activism is no match for the army of corporate money, lobbyists, national security officials, and media servants. Ordinary Americans, even when united in a coordinated campaign, may be able to delay or disrupt this limitlessly funded onslaught, but they eventually will be steamrolled by it." A statement like that can make a person feel pretty hopeless about the possibility for change -- and if that hopelessness is justified, then why even bother trying?

I cannot, however, deny the accuracy or the truth of the facts and events that lead Greenwald to his conclusions. Perhaps that's the most disheartening part. Certainly, the ostrich approach will not improve these realities. Knowledge is always preferable to hiding from ugly truths.
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LibraryThing member Tyllwin
In With Liberty and Justice for Some, Glenn Greenwald concerns himself primarily with the phenomenon of American public officials setting themselves and each other above the law. He begins with the pardon of Richard Nixon and traces it through the Bush administration, and finally Obama's
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I'm basically in agreement with Greenwald both in his perception that it occurs and in his concern, so I'm well within the target market for a book which I think is largely preaching to the choir. But even so, I think he executes it poorly. Primarily, it's a laundry list of actions (or inactions) on the part of public officials that he finds disturbing. Since Greenwald is decidedly left of center, even though he makes an effort to be even-handed, it's tilted towards indicting the right wing. I think that's tolerable: everyone brings their own viewpoint.

However, I see a couple of other, greater, failings on his part. The first is that he doesn't really make the argument showing why ordinary citizens should care, he simply takes it as a given that others will feel the way he does. But even more important is his failure to move beyond his narrow focus. He admits that the problem goes beyond only unaccountable political officials and into the realm of unaccountable corporations and citizens, but he doesn't spend more than a couple of chapters there, which isn't, I don't think, enough of his focus. The book, in general, is long on recitations of facts, and short on weighing and analysis. In short, lots of paragraphs and pages that people already on his side will agree with, but not much of a powerful and cohesive argument reaching out beyond that group.

(Disclosure: Review copy was provided to me free as a part of LTER)
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LibraryThing member cvanhasselt
I voted for Barack Obama, and, judging by the clown posse on the right, I'll vote for him again. But this time, there will be no enthusiasm, particularly after reading this book, due in no small part to this book. Greenwald is scathing in his critique of Bush era policies, particularly warrantless
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wiretapping of ordinary Americans, and the extraordinary justice system that allows us to keep prisoners at Guantanamo. But he is equally scathing in condemning Obama, for not seeking accountability for Bush and his cronies, for continuing the Bush era abuses of justice at Guantanamo, and for absolving Wall Street for any criminality in the recent financial crisis.

To anyone following these issues closely, I'm sure Greenwald's book will offer few surprises. But, let's face it, the majority of Americans, and I include myself, don't follow issues of justice closely enough. Every patriotic American should read this, and understand how our constitution is being assaulted from the left and the right, on behalf of the 1% who seem to get all the breaks. Our country is being sold down the river, and if you don't believe that, read this book.
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LibraryThing member jcbrunner
Like the so called "Bourgeois of Paris" chronicled the horrors of the Hundred Years War in early 15th century France, Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald provides poignant, shocking and voluminous testimony about the widespread failings and corruption of the US government and judicial system as well as
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the terminal intellectual decay of the American corporate media.

The book is divided into five chapters. Chapter 1 tries to trace the origin of American elite corruption to the unpunished crimes of Richard Nixon. It is certainly true that a culture of corruption grew among Nixon's apprentices such as Rumsfeld and Cheney, but Greenwald's Disneyland version of the just and saintly founding fathers differs from historical fact. Study history, young man, as Austrian chancellor Bruno Kreisky used to say. The American Revolution marginalized the non-plutocrat founding fathers. The history of crooked vice presidents started early. The heinous Alien and Sedition Act is an intellectual ancestor of the Bush regime's domestic war on terror. The history of the United States (like most other countries') is a history of corruption and abuse. Glennwald's youth and narrow education (like most lawyers) makes him judge the current abuses much more blatant than they actually are in historical comparison. Still, Glennwald's (unfortunately mostly futile) fight to stop them is commendable.

Chapter 2 is a recap of the sorry retroactive immunity for telecom companies that assisted the Bush administration spy on ordinary Americans, explicitly prohibited by FISA. The affair was also one of the first cases of Barack Obama siding with the corporate sector against the people and the law. The chapter's title and content "Immunity in the Private Sector" gives a wrong impression of the affair. The law-breaking was triggered by the Bush administration. The immunity offered to the companies is only a means to shield the crimes of the Bush administration. While Greenwald presents a strong case against the pliant telecom managers, it is a weak case to highlight the protection of corporate cronies. Barack Obama's shielding of BP for the Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster would have been a better case of protecting a guilty private company. Greenwald later on discards the distinction of private and public sector for an integrated military-industrial complex view.

Chapter 3 is a recap of the immunity from prosecution accorded to the Wall Street robber barons by both the Bush and Obama administrations. Greenwald, lacking a business background, basically follows the tracks of Yves Smith and Matt Taibbi. This is clearly the weakest chapter of the book.

Chapter 4 is a recap of the pernicious pardons granted by American presidents to their own subordinates. The (Republican) rot from Gerald Ford pardoning Richard Nixon to George H. Bush pardoning the Iran-Contra criminals to George W. Bush pardoning treasonous Scooter Libby is breathtaking. The hypocrisy of the law-and-order party is unbound. At least Bill Clinton pardoned only his cronies.

The final chapter 5 suddenly shifts the frame to the other America. Greenwald's account of America's huge prison population caused by the failed War on Drugs makes a clear case that American justice is not blind. It is clearly aware of both the skin color and the wealth of the defendant. With one third of black males having to endure prison during their life, the United States of America has installed a temporary form of chattel slavery. Together with the Gulags for foreigners, the creeping totalitarian reach of government is frightening.

While the messages in these chapters are important, even a casual read of Greenwald's blog will provide equal if not superior information about these topics. One of the quirks of this book is that, in stark contrast to the meticulous sourcing on his website, this book often provides incomplete or no source for his quotes. "As Time reported in October 1974" is a typical lazy attribution in this book that breaks standard quotation practice. The book also offers no bibliography or notes of any kind, an outstanding failure in my opinion. For unexplained reasons, the book has a cut-off date of November 2010. It is unclear why the author and the editors could not include more up-to-date coverage. The book also fails to mention Bradley Manning, who languishes in US custody without any indictment, about whose plights Greenwald did stellar reporting. Overall, I am quite disappointed by this book. To me, buying the book is an acknowledgment of Greenwald's work on his blog. Similar to the often unusable token gift one receives for charity contributions, the book is not up to par to the blog.
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LibraryThing member dono421846
What a depressing book. Greenwald's primary, well-argued and substantiated point, is that ever after Ford's pardon of Nixon, the politically power and wealthy elite have enjoyed a growing exemption from the ordinary rules of law that apply to the "little people." Making his argument especially
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convincing is the manner in which he shows how, from that initial act of betrayal to the rule of law, the exceptionalism has incrementally radiated outward: first to politicians who should not be prosecuted because it would "traumatize" the nation; then to their subordinates who acted in "good faith" and out of a sense of patriotic duty; then to corporations who commit illegal acts at the behest of governmental officials, until, finally, it is just anyone with enough wealth and influence. All while never breaking for a moment the cant of devoted commitment to the rule of law. The hypocrisy is staggering.

I knew the book had something relevant to say to these times because, without intention, it offers a true insight into the provocations that created the Occupy Wall Street movement. Our system, Greenwald explains, allows and even encourages inequality in almost every way. "The one exception was the rule of law. When it came to the law, no inequality was tolerable." With that lever, the other vicissitudes of fortune could be borne with dignity. But that social contract has been broken, and now the wealthy claim immunity from even the law, while striving at every turn to use it increasingly as a weapon to control the lower classes. Under that condition, the duty to tolerate stark and irrational economic inequality no longer applies. Thus emerges OWS. The participants may not be fully aware of the genesis of their discontent, or why it emerges now rather than earlier, but Greenwald has here framed a viable explanation. When a book does more than the author intended, you know you have a book worth reading.
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LibraryThing member TLCrawford
We screwed up with Bernie Madoff. Instead of looking backward, wasting our time with vengeance we should have been looking forward, striving to fix whatever problems existed. If that is not BS nothing is. However, according to Glenn Greenwald in his book “With liberty and justice for some : how
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the law is used to destroy equality and protect the powerful“ that is exactly what we have been doing for the most powerful American criminals. Bernie Madoff is not in prison because he is a thief, dozens of bank and mortgage company executives are also thieves and they are not in prison even though they deserve it as much ans Madoff does. Madoff was prosecuted because he stole from his fellow elites and not from powerless citizen home owners.

Greenwald explains, in detail, the unraveling of the rule of law in the United States. It begins with President Ford pardoning former President Richard Nixon right up to, and including, President Obama. Interspersed in his story of forty years of executive and corporate lawlessness is several historical examples that show it does not need to be like this. Samuel J.Tilden brought down his own political parties most powerful machine, Tammany Hall, and when on win the 1876 Presidential Election. (only to loose the office in a backroom deal) Reformer Theodore Roosevelt was pushed to run as President Garfield’s vice president in order to stop the reforms he was backing as Governor of New York, and Progressive Party Senator Robert La Follette who helped expose the Tea Pot Dome scandal. (The only factual error I found in the book was identifying La Follette as a Republican. Although La Follette was first elected to office as a Republican he changed his affiliation long before becoming governor of Wisconsin or a US Senator. Because I read an advance copy I can hope that this is corrected before publication)

The final section of the book covers the flip side of a lawless elite, the persecution of the common man. I knew that we have a lot of Americans in prison but I had no idea just how many. I was not aware how far we are from the international norm nor how quickly it became this bad.

The Introduction and Afterword are the most powerful parts of the book. Here Greenwald looks at what the Founding Fathers had to say about the importance of the Rule of Law and how badly we have failed them and ourselves and our descendants. I follow the news, I was aware of most of the incidents Greenwald discusses but, not being a lawyer, or intimately familiar with the Anti-Torture Treaty that President Reagan signed into law, or, I am ashamed to say, as familiar with the Constitution, I failed to see the big picture. His book is truly an eyeopener.
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LibraryThing member steve.clason
This isn't a great book, but it's a good book with great content about an important subject, and so, despite its shortcomings, deserves maximum start.

Greenwald, a former civil rights attorney, author of How Would a Patriot Act and A Tragic Legacy, a contributing writer at Salon and a respected
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blogger, describes how a two-tiered legal system has arisen in the U.S., in which the wealthy and powerful have received immunity for most crimes while the poor and powerless face increasingly harsh punishments for an increasingly broad range of crimes., a legal system that has led us to out current condition, with the largest prison population in the world and an upper class of the wealthy and powerful who kill, torture and loot with brazen impunity.

Greenwald charts the rise of this system starting with the Nixon pardon, then working through the retroactive immunity granted to the Telecoms for their complicity in illegal wiretapping, the absence of criminal investigations into the 2008 financial meld-down, and finally the unwillingness to pursue criminal charges against fraudulent practices in the mortgage crisis. He ends with a quick overview of how the lower classes, meanwhile, have been subjected to increasingly harsh treatment in the name of "law and order".

Certainly worth reading, the book suffers from a failure to modulate the outrage, so that its very tiring to read. Not that he should be cracking a joke here and there to lighten the mood, but some factual explanation without the "THIS IS AN OUTRAGE" tone would be welcome. Even though yes, it is an outrage.

Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member ClifSven
An exceptionally good look at the current political system in the United States. Mr. Greenwald spares no one in his often scathing account of the current climate in politics. At times, skewed leftward; he does not, however, reserve his criticism for the right-leaning crowd. An excellent read!



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