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No One Is Above the Law: New DOJ Leadership Needed

JURIST Contributing Editor David Crane of Syracuse University College of Law, former Chief Prosecutor for the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone and a former senior inspector general in the US Department of Defense, says that in the wake of revealed misuse of authority by the FBI under the Patriot Act - compounding other missteps related to prisoners of war, torture, political pressure on district attorneys, arrogant abuse of power related to national security and violations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act - new leadership is needed in the US Justice Department, and in the FBI in particular...

As Chief Prosecutor of the international war crimes tribunal in West Africa called the Special Court for Sierra Leone, I told the people there that no one is above the law. It was a statement I staked my personal and professional reputation on to prove to a horrified and beaten-down population that the law is the cornerstone of any free and democratic nation. As an American lawyer I used the United States as the example of how we hold our senior leaders accountable for their transgressions.

On Friday, FBI Director Robert Mueller stated that he was the one in charge and should be held accountable for the apparent misuse of an important, yet intrusive law enforcement tool: national security letters. Absolutely, he should be held accountable. This Department of Justice, under the leadership of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, has not served our republic well. From missteps related to prisoners of war, torture, political pressure on district attorneys, to arrogant abuse of power related to national security, including violations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and this recent misuse of authorities under the Patriot Act, the chief law enforcement office of the United States has bungled his job.

The cornerstone to this great nation is the law. We are in our second Cold War, an ideological struggle with religious criminals who seek to dominate an entire ancient religion for their own personal agenda. Civilization can only win this struggle by holding fast to the rule of law, using it as the ultimate weapon against those who seek to harm us. When we step away from that principle we begin to move down a very dark path indeed.

Both Gonzales and Mueller admitted publicly that members of our FBI broke the law. Those who did should be appropriately dealt with under the law. Yet the report hints of systemic problems, lack of oversight, sloppy administration and follow-up. It even appears that there was some intent to under-report the use of national security letters. This is a leadership and management issue at the highest level.

As a former senior inspector general in the Department of Defense and someone who has lead and managed federal and international organizations, large and small for over three decades, I know when an agency is poorly led. The FBI and the Justice Department are poorly led. This recent report by the Inspector General of that department shows this fact.

New leadership is needed in the Justice Department. As these violations of law and policy were under the watch of Robert Mueller, he should resign. No one is above the law, not even the Director of the FBI.

Congress should show leadership, as well and oversee more closely the Attorney General. The term "trust, but verify" is so apt here to ensure that the rule of law is followed in our own Justice Department. How many times can you forgive, overlook, or second-chance conduct that clearly steps away from a document that boldly declared centuries ago: "We the people of the United State, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice…"

David M. Crane is a professor at Syracuse University College of Law, and former founding Chief Prosecutor for the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone (2002-2005). He previously spent over 30 years in US federal government service as a Senior Inspector General, Department of Defense, Assistant General Counsel of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and Waldemar A. Solf Professor of International Law at the United States Army Judge Advocate General's School.


Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.

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