Targeting Lawyers: The Case of Paul Bergrin - by Stephen Lendman
The Constitution's Sixth Amendment assures defendants in "all criminal prosecutions" the right to speedy, public, fair trials with "the Assistance of (competent) Counsel for his (or her) defense" provided free if unable to pay for it. The Fourteenth Amendment holds government subservient to the law and guarantees due process respect for everyone's legal right to judicial fairness on matters relating to life, liberty, or property.
In America and elsewhere, defending unpopular clients is a long, honored tradition. So is upholding the law and challenging unfettered power that defiles it. Yet doing it risks lawyers being criminalized for doing their job too vigorously or making enemies of powerful, influential government or business officials in the process.
"In the best traditions of advocacy," according to her lawyer Michael Tigar, Lynne Stewart was wrongly convicted and now jailed for ethically, morally, and responsibly defending an accused terrorist Washington wanted to convict.
As New York state Attorney General, Eliot Spitzer was an aggressive prosecutor against Wall Street corruption and the Bush administration's housing bubble involvement and covertly arranged bailouts that followed. In a TV interview and February 2008 Washington Post article titled, "Predatory Lenders' Partner in Crime: How the Bush Administration Stopped the States From Stepping In to Help Consumers," he called the president a fugitive from justice and accused him of doing nothing to help consumers.
In preparing a high-profile campaign to tell all, his own indiscretions brought him down for buying sex from a high-priced prostitute in a Washington hotel. He wasn't charged, but it ruined his career and halted efforts to target some of the nation's most powerful.
Defense attorney Paul Bergrin follows in the same tradition. Like Stewart and Spitzer, he challenged the powerful and paid dearly. The New Times Times called him a "top prosecutor" before becoming one of New Jersey's "most prominent defense lawyers, representing clients as varied as Abu Ghraib defendants, the rap stars Lil' Kim and Queen Larifah and members of Newark's notorious street gangs," all of whom have the same rights as everyone to due process and judicial fairness as constitutional law demands.
Bergrin and other lawyers defended four 101st Airborne Division soldiers accused of killing four Iraqis near Samarra during the May 2006 Operation Iron Triangle. The case made international headlines when evidence showed Col. Michael Steele gave orders to "kill all military age males," and Professor Stjepan Mestrovic wrote a book on what happened, titled "The 'Good Soldier' On Trial: A Sociological Study of Misconduct by the US Military Pertaining to Operation Iron Triangle, Iraq."
He documented disturbing evidence of "US government mistreatment of its own soldier-prisoners as well as foreign 'detainees,' " and used Operation Iron Triangle and the book's main protagonist, Spc. William Hunsaker, to study "patterns of culture" and American society so readers will know what he found.
He quoted Joseph Heller's "Catch-22" to highlight a key theme, saying:
Clevinger "was guilty, of course, or he would have not been accused, and since the only way to prove it was to find him guilty, it was their patriotic duty to do so."
To the Iron Triangle soldiers also, unfairly convicted who mustn't be forgotten so perhaps, one day, responsible officials will review their cases and "reform the military justice system to secure authentic justice" now absent.
It was no ordinary murder case. It involve conspiracy, cover-up and intrigue by the government, not the solders who were scapegoated to absolve the powerful. The prosecutor called them "war criminals," contradicting the key fact:
"that a crime becomes a 'war crime' when it involves the government, which is to say, when a crime is the result of unlawful social policies and plans."
Lawful rules of engagement (ROE) killings result from orders at a time of war. Unlawful ones are war crimes for which leaders and high government officials bear main responsibility. According to noted sociologist Emile Durkheim:
"The immorality of war depends entirely on the leaders who willed it - the soldier and even those government officials who had no part in the decision remain innocent."