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Is The Government Above The Law?

April 29, 2012

The New York Times reports that several ‘terror plots’ foiled by the FBI were actually FBI ops that were designed to entice and entrap gullible would-be bad guys (and gals) into going along with them.  The Hutaree Militia members accused of planning a cop-killing rampage walk away with nominal punishments after a lengthy trial reveals that they were led on by Federal plants, one a paid informant, who were the real instigators of the ‘plot.’  Operation ‘Fast and Furious‘ saw agents of the ATF selling automatic weapons to violent Mexican drug cartel members.  They may have hoped to entrap some of the buyers, but some of those weapons become the instruments of the taking of innocent life, both civilian and of Border Patrol agents, as well.

What do all of these events have in common?  An assumption on the part of the actors that they had the right to break the law in order to catch criminals.  This is, sadly, a common theme in modern American culture.  Whether it’s Dirty Harry or Jack Bauer,  audiences cheer the vigilante who sees that ‘the system’ isn’t working and who decides to take the law into his own hands.  In Movieland, the hero (or anti-hero, depending on how one views things) always gets the bad guy, the innocent are protected, and the end appears to justify the means.  It’s not that neat and pretty in real life.  Innocents die, and even when they are fellow sworn officers of the perpetrators, their deaths are simple ‘collateral damage

It ought to be a point requiring no argumentation that the ends do not justify the means.  It ought also be beyond need for debate to assert that the public servants who exercise public trust while in government service ought to act within both the spirit and the letter of the law.  Lawlessness can never be justified, not even if the bad guys are caught without innocent suffering.  Knowing, as we do, that human nature is frail and corruptible, we know that power will be abused.  That ought to impel us, as citizens, to hold government accountable, especially in the realm of law enforcement, where the use of deadly force is always a possibility in the course of daily operations.  We also know, as these examples attest, that there are many instances where lawless activity will not result in a clean, neat resolution, but rather in the kinds of crimes detailed here.  What remains to be seen is whether or not the perpetrators of these acts  – plotting terrorist attacks, selling automatic weapons unlawfully, et cetera – will have to answer for them in court, or if we will have before proof that our government considers itself to be above the laws that the rest of us must obey.

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