What Do O.J. Simpson and Attorney General Michael Mukasey Have in Common?

December 8, 2008

(c) Getty Images
(c) Getty Images

Consider the following two statements:

1.“I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I didn’t know I was doing anything wrong.”

  1. [There is no evidence those involved. . . did what they did] “for any reason other than to protect the security in the country and in the belief that he or she was doing something lawful. In those circumstances, there is no occasion to consider prosecution. . .”

The first statement was made by O.J. Simpson in pleading for leniency as he was being sentenced for charges that included armed robbery and kidnapping in the course of attempting to recover sports memorabilia that he believed was rightfully his.  The second statement was made by Attorney General Michael Mukasey in response to a question about whether pardons were being considered for Bush administration officials who were involved in developing counterterrorism policies.

Comparing these two statements may, at first glance, seem like a stretch. After all, the underlying actions they were referring to – attempting to recover allegedly stolen personal property at gunpoint and defending the national security of the United States – are vastly different in character.  However, the two statements offer remarkably similar justifications for criminal, or potentially criminal, actions.

In Simpson’s case, he was chastised by Judge Jackie Glass of Clark County District Court for arguing, in essence, that because he believed he was not doing anything wrong, therefore no crime took place.  Yet that is exactly the reasoning advanced by Attorney General Mukasey regarding potentially criminal acts in the “war on terror.” No pardons need be considered, he argues, because there were no violations of law.  This is because those who developed policies on the treatment of terror suspects believed they were not doing anything wrong, but rather were acting out of the purest of motives.

What extraordinary reasoning this is from the chief law enforcement officer of the United States! Mr. Mukasey’s argument, like his refusal to condemn waterboarding, is a disgraceful attempt to shield from further investigation and prosecution those who justified and authorized illegal acts.  It is particularly outrageous because the Attorney General is more responsible than any other single person for upholding the rule of law in the United States.  As Amnesty International noted in commenting on Mr. Mukasey’s statement, ignorance of the law and defense of national security are no excuse for criminal behavior.  How very sad that our Attorney General has yet to understand that.