Masters of Non-Accountability at Work

There are predators, and then there are enablers.

It doesn’t matter if we are talking about child sexual abuse committed by Roman Catholic priests, deceptive banking practices and predatory financial manipulations carried out on Wall Street, or torture conducted by agents of the US government.

There are predators, and then there are enablers. The former carried out these acts, and they are despicable acts indeed. But worse — far worse — are those who made it possible for these acts to be committed, who covered them up when they were discovered, and who stonewall attempts at accountability that include those in supervisory positions.

Pope Benedict XVI is quick to assert the authority of the pope over bishops, priests, religious, and all Catholics. Lloyd Blankfein is quick to proclaim the supreme power of Goldman Sachs over all his competitors on Wall Street. Jay Bybee, in his work at the Office of Legal Counsel under President Bush, was quick to proclaim the authority of the president to set aside treaties and even many provisions of the constitution so long as he acted as “commander in chief” of the military.

But when faced with not just allegations but evidence of wrongdoing that emerged from their actions, the institutions headed by Benedict, Blankfein, and Bybee are singing another song.

The name of this game is “protect the institution.”

For years, this was why bishops moved “problem priests” from one parish to another, and why they tried to deal with it in house, rather than involve the secular authorities. Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, head of the Vatican’s Congregation of the Clergy from 1996 to 2006, intervened in 1997 to protect an abusive priest in Arizona by threatening the bishop who wanted him removed, and in 2001  commended a French bishop for refusing to report an abusive priest to the police. The thinking was “it would be a scandal if this were to become public, so it must be kept quiet at all costs.”

The same mentality was at work on Wall Street in the years leading up to the collapse in late 2008. “If it becomes public that things are bad, it would be a scandal, so we have to keep it quiet.”

And in the halls of George Bush’s Department of Justice, “protecting the institution” meant practically giving the White House a blank check to conduct torture. “But it has to be kept quiet, otherwise there would be a scandal.”

Sorry, but what was scandalous were the practices themselves — abuse by priests, creating deceptive investment vehicles by unscrupulous securities dealers, and plain old torture by US interrogators. Keeping things quiet only serves to pile new scandals on top of old. Keeping things quiet does not “prevent scandals” at all, but allows them to grow and fester in fertile new fields.

For all the priests who have been removed from ministry because of their predatory behavior, the bishops who enabled them have faced almost no consequences. Boston’s Cardinal Law was not removed from office for his actions, but given a place of honor in Rome. In Ireland, after a damning report on abuse by Catholic priests that included stunning revelations about episcopal efforts to cover up the abuse, it took national pressure to get just four bishops to even offer their resignations, and only yesterday did the Vatican move to accept the resignation of the second of these.

Meanwhile, back in DC, last Wednesday saw a US District Court judge take official notice of torture. As bmaz discussed at Emptywheel, Judge Henry H. Kennedy ruled in favor of a habeas petition by Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman, and noted in his decision that Uthman had been subject to torture. Not “coercive interrogations” or “enhanced interrogation techniques,” but “torture” — and torture is a crime.

So now we have a judge noting that a crime has been committed, but the efforts to hold anyone accountable remain stagnant. What efforts are being made appear aimed only at “bad apples” who went beyond their orders. But what of the actions of the OLC under now-Judge Bybee of the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals? Like the bishops of Ireland, Bybee and others in DC created the climate that allowed torture to take place in Gitmo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Like the bishops, Bybee et al. took steps to keep their roles quiet, so as to “protect the institution” and not cause a scandal.

And Wall Street? Haven’t you heard that the SEC’s attempt to hold Goldman Sachs accountable would “hurt America“? Right.

There are perpetrators who commit abusive crimes, and there are enablers who cover them up and create an atmosphere that ensures that similar crimes will happen again.

From the Vatican to Wall Street to the DOJ and the Pentagon, the calls remain the same: look forward, not back.

Sorry, folks, but without accountability, there is no moving forward.

(photo h/t: Digital Sextant)