With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful

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From "the most important voice to have entered the political discourse in years" (Bill Moyers), a scathing critique of the two-tiered system of justice that has emerged in America

From the nation's beginnings, the law was to be the great equalizer in American life, the guarantor of a common set of rules for all. But over the past four decades, the principle of equality before the law has been effectively abolished. Instead, a two-tiered system of justice ensures that the ...

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With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful

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From "the most important voice to have entered the political discourse in years" (Bill Moyers), a scathing critique of the two-tiered system of justice that has emerged in America

From the nation's beginnings, the law was to be the great equalizer in American life, the guarantor of a common set of rules for all. But over the past four decades, the principle of equality before the law has been effectively abolished. Instead, a two-tiered system of justice ensures that the country's political and financial class is virtually immune from prosecution, licensed to act without restraint, while the politically powerless are imprisoned with greater ease and in greater numbers than in any other country in the world.

Starting with Watergate, continuing on through the Iran-Contra scandal, and culminating with the crimes of the Bush era, Glenn Greenwald lays bare the mechanisms that have come to shield the elite from accountability. He shows how the media, both political parties, and the courts have abetted a process that has produced torture, war crimes, domestic spying, and financial fraud.

Cogent, sharp, and urgent, this is a no-holds-barred indictment of a profoundly un-American system that sanctions immunity at the top and mercilessness for everyone else.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Attorney and Salon contributor Greenwald (Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics, 2008, etc.) exposes the collapse of the checks-and-balances system that was supposed to protect America from tyrants and dictators. When the executive, judicial and legislative branches collude to avoid enforcement, lawlessness is the end result; it's what happens when presidents say, "we want to look forward as opposed to looking backward," allowing the last administration to get away with murder (often literally). The author cites the many instances of those who were guilty but walked free: from the Teapot Dome scandal to Iran Contra, to pardons for Nixon, Weinberger and Libby. Business as usual continued with Barack Obama, who ignored the machinations of the Bushes in favor of "looking forward." The peddling of influence is nourished by the lobbyists and PACs, and financiers are bailed out for causing the economy to tank, instead of being jailed. They know that high-risk investments hold risk for the taxpayers, never for them; the government is right there with their parachute. Greenwald points out that offenders are protected not only by each other, but also by the press, which is supposed to be the public's watchdog. Meanwhile, the middle and lower classes can expect long-term imprisonment for even the least of crimes. And now that prisons-for-profit are part of the mix, look for more and stricter sentencing guidelines. Greenwald lets no one off the hook in demonstrating the vast differences in legal recourse between rich and poor, powerful and weak--would that he had more solutions.
From the Publisher
“The most important voice to have entered the political discourse in years.”

—Bill Moyers

“Glenn Greenwald’s latest book is an absolute must-read. Incredibly persuasive, rigorous and damning.”

—Christopher Hayes


“Glenn Greenwald is not just the American Left’s most fearless political commentator; his fearlessness is such that he has shifted the expectations for everyone else, too. His rock-ribbed principles and absolute disregard for partisan favor have made U.S. political discourse edgier, more confrontational, and much, much better.”

—Rachel Maddow

“See this book? Then grab it. Read it. Shove it into everyone’s face. This is the kind of text supporters of progress and justice urgently need. We need its honesty and clarity; its focus on what matters; and its expertise... We also need its courage, for it tells us what many suspect, but few dare to shout out.”



“Greenwald lets no one off the hook in demonstrating the vast differences in legal recourse between rich and poor, powerful and weak… When the executive, judicial and legislative branches collude to avoid enforcement, lawlessness is the end result.”

Kirkus Reviews

“The first thing I do when I turn on the computer in the morning is go to Glenn Greenwald’s blog to see what he said. He is truly one of our greatest writers right now.”

—Michael Moore

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805092059
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/25/2011
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 244,785
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Glenn Greenwald is the author of the New York Times bestsellers How Would a Patriot Act? and A Tragic Legacy. Recently proclaimed one of the "25 Most Influential Liberals in U.S. Media" by Forbes, Greenwald is a former constitutional law and civil rights attorney and a contributing writer at Salon. He lives in Brazil and New York City.

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Read an Excerpt


Once it became clear in the fall of 2007 that the White House was seriously demanding retroactive amnesty for the telecoms and that congressional Democrats were preparing to grant it, a coordinated and sustained public campaign was launched largely via the Internetto oppose telecom immunity.

In October, as the Democratic presidential primary was heating up, various blogs organized a mass call-in campaign to insist that each candidate clearly state his or her position on telecom immunity and vow to do everything possible to oppose it. In response, all of the Democratic candidates issued statements vehemently opposing amnesty for the telecoms, and Barack Obama went even farther, vowing to filibuster any bill containing such immunity. Obamas campaign spokesman, Bill Burton, put the promise in a way that could not have been more absolute: To be clear, Barack will support a filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies.

Opponents of telecom immunity also asked Senator Chris Doddwho had made a defense of civil liberties and restoration of the rule of law a centerpiece of his campaign for the Democratic nominationto take the lead in blocking Senate enactment of the immunity. He agreed to do so and publicly announced that he would not only filibuster any bill containing amnesty for telecoms but also use his power as a senator for the first time in his career to place a so-called hold on any such bill.

The Military Commissions Act. Warrantless wiretapping. Shredding of Habeas Corpus. Torture. Extraordinary Rendition. Secret Prisons.

No more.

I have decided to place a hold on the latest FISA bill that would have included amnesty for telecommunications companies that enabled the Presidents assault on the Constitution by illegally providing personal information on their customers without judicial authorization.

So eager were many citizens for leadership against corporate lawlessness that, as a result of this bold commitment, Dodds anemic presidential campaign received literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations overnight from small donors.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars were also raised from small donors to pay for political ads opposing telecom immunity. With that money, robocalls were run in the districts of Democratic leaders, such as then-House minority whip Steny Hoyer, who were signaling their support for immunity. And full-page advertisements were placed in the Washington Post in the days before the vote, warning of the threat to the rule of law posed by retroactive immunity for telecoms.

Working with Dodd, bloggers and online activist groups were able to catapult the issue of telecom immunity from the darkened back rooms in Washington where bills are typically drafted into the light of mainstream political debate. What would have otherwise been a measure quietly passed without much public notice became a genuine source of contention and conflict. Other allies in Congress were recruited to the cause, and with Dodd fulfilling his promise to use every obstructionist measure avail- able, telecom immunitywhich looked to be on the easy road of lobbyist-driven, quick, and painless bipartisan enactment lingered in Congress for months and months. In March 2008, it even appeared that the measure had suffered a potentially fatal defeat, when the Democratic-led House rejected a new FISA bill (which came complete with full-scale immunity) by a narrow margin.

But democratic activism is no match for the army of corporate money, lobbyists, national security officials, and media servants. Ordinary Americans, even when united in a coordinated campaign, may be able to delay or disrupt this limitlessly funded onslaught, but they eventually will be steamrolled by it. And thats precisely what happened.

In early July, the Democratic-controlled House passed a new FISA bill that vastly expanded the warrantless eavesdropping powers of the government, in the process legalizing most of what had previously been illegal. On July 9, 2008, the U.S. Senate did the same. Titled the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, the bill also granted full retroactive immunity, both civil and criminal, to the entire telecom industry, thus guaranteeing an end to the multiple lawsuits that had been filed against them. All possibility for further investigation into the massive spying pro- gram, and for a judicial review of its legality, permanently ended on that day.

The bill passed with the support of virtually the entire Democratic congressional leadership. Barack Obama, by then the Democratic nominee for president, blatantly violated his vow to filibuster any bill containing telecom immunity. Instead, he voted against the Dodd-sponsored filibuster; with the filibuster defeated, Obama then voted in favor of the underlying bill itself. (Hillary Clinton, no longer a presidential candidate, fulfilled her campaign promise by voting against it.) The vote in the Democratic-controlled Senate was not even close: 6928 in favor of the bill. The vote in the House was similarly lopsided (293-129), with Democrats evenly split but with the entire Democratic leadershipincluding Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and Rahm Emanuelsupporting the bill.

The day after the Senate vote, President Bush celebrated the harmless end to a scandal that began almost three years earlier when the New York Times told the nation that he had been illegally spying on American citizens for years. He invited numerous leaders of both political parties to the White House for the ceremony at which the new FISA bill was signed into law.

Those members of Congress mingled with Admiral McConnell and the other national security officials who had worked so tirelessly to ensure that telecoms (and therefore the president) would be shielded from all liability. In his remarks, the president heaped particular praise on Senator Rockefeller for leading the way in ensuring the bills passage.

Very soon after Bushs signing ceremony, the telecoms filed papers in the federal court where the lawsuits against them were proceeding andciting the immunity they had just received demanded the summary dismissal of those suits. The judges, their hands bound by the new law, threw those cases out of court, and the telecoms were forever shielded from paying any compensation to the customers whose privacy they had sacrificed. They were also shielded from any criminal investigations or prosecutions for those crimes.

The Washington establishment and the telecom industry exulted over their great victory, and understandably so. It signaled that there is literally no limit on the ability of corporate elites, using their control of government, to be immunized from the rule of law, potently foreshadowing Wall Streets full-scale protection after the 2008 financial crisis.

The telecom industry issued fulsome expressions of gratitude. As it happened, the new FISA bill was passed shortly before the Democratic National Convention was to meet in Denver and formally announce Barack Obama as the partys presidential nominee. Within two weeks after the bills passage, the steering committee of the DNC unveiled AT&Ts generous sponsorship of various aspects of the convention, including products such as an AT&T-branded tote bag to be distributed to all convention delegates.

At the convention itself, AT&Ts signature globe was prominently placed at virtually every DNC event. While this sponsor- ship was relatively trivial from a financial perspective, few things were more appropriate than having a telecom logo hover over the Democratic Partys principal gathering. After all, the party had just delivered an extraordinary gift to that industry. The omnipresence of AT&T was a refreshingly, if not intention- ally, honest expression of the Democrats true allegiance.

The second day of the Democratic convention fell on August 25, 2008. That night, at the Mile High Stationnext to Invesco Stadium, where Barack Obama was to accept the partys nomination in front of a crowd of eighty thousand people two nights laterAT&T threw a lavish private party for Blue Dog House Democrats. This was one of the listings for the event:

8 P.M.

Just because the Blue Dogs are scally conservative doesnt mean they cant have a good time, especially when AT&T is picking up the bill. Mile High Station,

2027 W. Lower Colfax Ave. By invitation.

Armed with full-scale convention press credentials issued by the DNC (though lacking an invitation to the party), I went with several other people to report on the festivities. Deployed around the building was a wall of private security guards, who informed us that the press was barred from the gatheringeven though what was taking place inside was a meeting between one of the nations largest corporations and the numerous members of one of the most influential elected factions in Congress.

Denied access to the building, we stood in front of the entrance and began videotaping and trying to interview the parade of Blue Dog representatives, AT&T executives, assorted lobbyists, and convention delegates pulling up in their rented limousines, chauffeured cars, and SUVs. We wanted to find out who was attending and why AT&T would be throwing such a lavish party for the Blue Dog members of Congress.

Amazingly, not a single one of the twenty-five to thirty people we tried to interview would speak to us about who they were, how they got invited, what the partys purpose was, or why they were there. One attendee said that he was with an energy company, and another confessed that she was affiliated with a trade association, but this was the full extent of anyones willingness to describe themselves or this event. After just a few minutes, the private security teams demanded that we leave. When we refused and continued trying to interview the reticent attendees, the Denver police forced us to move farther and farther away from the entrance until finally we were unable to approach any more of the arriving guests.

It was really the perfect symbol for how the Beltway political system functions: those who dictate the nations laws (the largest corporations and their lobbyists) cavorting with those who are elected to write those laws (members of Congress) while completely prohibiting the public from having any access to and knowledge oflet alone involvement inwhat they are doing. All of this was arranged by AT&T, the corporation that paid for a substantial part of the Democrats national convention after having just received an extraordinary gift of retroactive amnesty from the Congress controlled by that party. And all of it took place right next to the stadium where the Democratic presidential nominee who had spent months righteously claiming that, if elected, he would cleanse the Beltway of corporate and lobbying influenceswas to accept the presidential nomination.

The telecom immunity law was one of the most striking pieces of evidence demonstrating that the royal Beltway court and its corporate partners placed themselves above and beyond the reach of the law even for the most blatant transgressions. But more important, it also proved that they no longer cared who knew it. And the vital enabling role that the Democratic Party and Barack Obama played in those events was a powerful fore- shadowing of howonce they consolidated their hold on political powerthe Democrats would not just maintain, but entrench and expand, this culture of elite impunity.

Copyright © 2011 Glenn Greenwald

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 14, 2011

    A Real Eye Opener

    One of my favorite books of the year. Greenwald pulls no punches and eloquently describes the real differences between the rich and powerful; and everyone else. Almost every page delivers an assault on how corrupt and lop-sided our criminal justice system has become. There are no happy endings in this book, and all the better; for it depicts the reality all too well.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 17, 2011

    Masterful review

    Masterful review of the slippery slope to oblivion of the American heritage for which so many have sacrificed and died. My earliest ancestor who came in 1717 was one of 9 CT men who wrested Cape Breton from the French, and fought in 2 campaigns in the French and Indian War. I am the 9th generation and have an Army son who has served in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Iraq, which allowed me to see the principled idealism of these officers and their men who put their lives on the line to defend the Constitution. Life according to its precepts has been increasingly squandered until it is no longer recognizable. Probably the most painful thing I experienced in my life was shortly before my WWII veteran-father's death, when he said, "I used to believe in the US, but I no longer do."
    This is not partisanship or politics. It's about the peril of principle and call to personal commitment [sacrifice] for preservation of basic egalitarian values for which so many others have sacrificed. I appreciate Mr. Greenwald's passion and fine work. This book should be required reading for all US citizens.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 9, 2012

    If you want the honest truth then read this book.

    If you want the honest truth then read this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2014

    A bool every American should read

    Honestly, we all are aware that there something rotten in our justice system, but the behind the door extent the corruption and illegalness of our system is entirely revealed and unpackaged by this author. We cannot ask for change without the facts, and thus this book certainly will fill us in so that we can.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 17, 2011


    Glenn's book was incredible! Goes to the deep roots of the problems with the political system the U.S. If you read his blog such as I do daily, or wether you are new and would like to get a better understanding of our country, this is the book for you.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 29, 2011

    Highly Recommend

    Well researched and written. The founding fathers would be appalled at the overt and brazen efforts of our politicians, on all sides, and the wealthy business elite to rig the system to their advantage, and at the same time rewrite the rules of justice to ensure that they will avoid any punishment for outright crimes. This book is very sad, but a necessary read and wake up call to all Americans.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 24, 2011

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    Posted October 22, 2012

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