"Heretofore Too Big to Fail; Now, Too Big to Jail"

by ED KOCH November 3, 2010
An editorial in The New York Times of October 29th states it all: “We have known for some time that a flaw in the cement used on BP’s Macondo well contributed to the disastrous April 20 explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. What we did not know, until now, was that both BP and Halliburton, the company BP hired to cement the well, appear to have been aware that the mixture was prone to failure — and went ahead anyway. This disturbing disclosure is contained in a new report from the presidential commission investigating the explosion. It is sure to cause another round of ‘not me’ blame-shifting between BP and Halliburton. BP has identified the inadequate cement job as a major factor in the explosion and faulted Halliburton, on which it obviously hopes to offload some of its legal and financial responsibilities. The report has plenty of blame to go around. And it leaves the clear impression that two of the most important players in the risky world of deep-water drilling were doing their job on the cheap.”
 
 
It appears to me that this may be the perfect case to pursue criminal charges against officers of the two giant corporations. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder should seek to indict the officers of both companies, and not simply the corporations.  Suing the corporations would mean, upon conviction, that the corporations or, more accurately, their stockholders would merely pay fines assessed by the court.  Suing the officers would mean that upon conviction, real people – those who sought to save money for their employers and thereby endangered lives and the environment – might actually go to prison.
 
At the moment, we live in a society where the size of the corporations that brought the U.S. to its knees economically has determined their treatment by the U.S. government.  Major culprits have been designated as “too big to fail.”  To now allow the culprits in the Gulf oil disaster, which are in fact real people who committed what could be criminal acts, to escape personal punishment would mean that they are “too big to jail.”
 
There could not be a better test of the willingness of the federal administration to treat all coming before the bar of justice equally.  Mr. President, I urge you to order your attorney general to immediately search for evidence that will allow him to seek criminal indictments against those behind the Gulf oil disaster and those who have sent our economy into a tailspin, crushing the hopes and futures of the many millions of Americans who are out of work.  Let the rich and powerful be judged before our courts as those courts now judge the poor and powerless.
 
 
 
 
I am a proponent of the death penalty which, while still supported by a majority of Americans, has lost ground to the alternative penalty of life imprisonment without parole.  I believe there are some crimes that are so heinous -- involving not only cold blooded murder, but additional depraved conduct -- that they warrant the death penalty.  The best example is the current Cheshire, Connecticut case where three members of a family were murdered after the mother and her two daughters were raped.  A jury is now considering the death penalty for the convicted killer, having already convicted him of the murders.  If the jury recommends the death penalty, it will be interesting to see if the opponents will take to the streets in protest.
 
Regrettably, in New York, the death penalty is in limbo, having been struck down by the courts.  But it is salvageable if the legislature amends the language of the statute.  There is no indication that the legislature is inclined to do so.
 
 
 
 
Why hasn’t the U.S. government either indicted Julian Assange of WikiLeaks who has distributed almost 400,000 secret U.S. documents relating to the Iraq war, which the Pentagon says endangers the lives of American soldiers and the lives of our allies, including pro-U.S. Iraqi civilians, or placed him on the assassination list permitted by law?  Mr. Assange is an Australian citizen, but that should not deter our government from either option, particularly that of indicting him, knowing that sooner or later he will enter a country with which we have an extradition treaty.
 
The President has placed Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen now residing in Yemen, on a list for lawful assassination by U.S. forces.  Al-Awlaki is the Imam who allegedly counseled Major Nidal Hasan to kill American soldiers at Fort Hood.
 
Shouldn’t there be a process by which one placed on the assassination list can contest in court that designation without returning to the U.S.?  I believe the parents of the Imam tried to do so and were found by the court not to have standing. In my opinion, they should be given standing by law if necessary.  Yes, we are at war, but our government is also imposing the death penalty.
 
 
 
 
The Times recently pointed out that the public and the congressional candidates don’t seem to care about the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Those wars and the deaths of young Americans, don’t seem to figure at all in the election campaign.  It is time for a march on Washington to press for bringing our soldiers home now.  It is shameful that they are dying to preserve corrupt governments, particularly in Afghanistan, where President Hamid Karzai is accepting bundles of cash from Iran which is responsible for killing U.S. soldiers, while our soldiers spill their blood and guts to keep Karzai in office.
 
We have now had two marches on Washington attracting several hundred thousand participants: that of Glenn Beck and this past weekend, that of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Surely our troops – and bringing them home – deserve even larger rallies.
 
 
 
 
Check your medical insurance policy premiums. I was advised last week that my premium has been increased by 43 percent over last year.  What’s happened to yours?
 
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributor Ed Koch is the former mayor of New York City.
 

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