This week in the news we have seen two criminal cases that are not entirely unrelated - the sentencing of Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht and the arrest of FIFA officials in Switzerland.
Ross Ulbricht was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. What did he do that the US justice system determined was so irredeemable, you might ask? Did he commit mass murder? No, he ran a website that was used by people all over the world for the buying and selling of recreational narcotics. Ulbricht appears to have been motivated not so much by financial gain (although there is nothing wrong with that) as philosophy. He was a libertarian and believes, as I do, that governments have no business interfering in the voluntary interactions of rational, adult human beings. As this article on libertarian website Reason.com explains, Ulbricht believes people should have the right to choose whether or not they take recreational drugs and governments should not initiate violence against those who do so (or those like him who enable them to do so).
The United States Government has devoted a large part of its resources over the last few decades to pursuing and imprisoning people who consume and trade in recreational narcotics. As a result America has the highest level of imprisonment of any Western nation (with 4.4% of the world's population, the US has 22% of the world's prisoners - and more than half of all federal prisoners are incarcerated for drug offences). The very high imprisonment rate is due to three factors. Firstly the American justice system is overwhelmingly weighted in favour of prosecutors with federal prosecutors having a 93% conviction rate [2012 figures], which is matched only in countries that tend not to have much respect for the rule of law such as China. Secondly, the prosecutorial system in the United States is based on a fundamentally corrupt practice that is outlawed in many other countries - that of plea bargaining. This practice encourages prosecutors to lay manifestly excessive charges against defendants so that they will be forced to plead guilty to lesser charges, even when those lesser charges are themselves tenuous. Thirdly, the US has manifestly excessive sentences, especially for drug offences - for a first offence conviction for trafficking in just one gram of LSD the federal mandatory sentence is 5 - 40 years in prison [source: DEA website].
In Ross Ulbricht's case the inherent excess and corruption of the US justice system is made even worse by what Forbes magazine describes as "staggering corruption in the Silk Road investigation." The article reveals that two of the investigators in the case have been charged with embezzlement and theft and that "a state's witness took the fall for an agent's theft, thus becoming a target for murder-for-hire" (for which it was implied that Ross Ulbricht was responsible even though he was not tried for this). Evidence of this incredible corruption was suppressed by the prosecution until immediately prior to the trial and the judge denied all attempts by the defence to introduce it during the trial. Read the article linked above for yourself and I'm sure you will be as gobsmacked as me as to how someone can be sentenced to life in prison on the back of such impropriety by the US authorities.
With all this in mind, what should we make of the arrest of FIFA officials in Switizerland on extradiction warrants from the US Government? I think there is no doubt that FIFA is a very corrupt organisation and has been for many decades. The officials concerned, and long-term FIFA president Sepp Blatter as well, should held accountable for their corrupt practices. But I think Russian president Vladimir Putin (who is something of an expert on corruption himself) has it right when he says the arrests were “another blatant attempt by the United States to extend its jurisdiction to other states.” The sight of US Justice Department officials posing for photos as they left FIFA's regional association offices in Miami with boxes of papers had more than an hint of sham about it, and newly-appointed US Attorney-General Loretta Lynch's press conference did not add to the credibility of the case (and doesn't she know it isn't called "soccer" in the rest of the world?).
I have written before about the imperialistic ambitions of the United States to extend its legal bailiwick to the whole world. This wouldn't be so bad if the United States lived up to the intent of its founding document as a nation of people with "unalienable Rights...[including] Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness", whose government derives its "just powers from the consent of the governed." But America is no longer that, if it ever was. The US has deviated so far from its founders' original intent of a limited republic, where the government serves at the pleasure of its people rather than the other way around, that it is hypocritical in the extreme for it to try and impose its legislative morality on the rest of the world.
Don't misunderstand me - I'm not saying America is irredeemably corrupt or has lost all respect for the rule of law, and I'd still far sooner be tried in an American court than a Chinese one - but a state that locks up a man for the rest of his life for the offence of running a website is a cruel and capricious one. And the world doesn't need a cruel and capricious imperial policeman.