Barr under fire

Barr under fire

US Attorney General criticised for comparing COVID-19 virus lockdown to slavery

Friday, September 18, 2020

Print this page Email A Friend!


WASHINGTON, DC, United States (AP) — Attorney General William Barr drew sharp condemnation yesterday for comparing lockdown orders during the coronavirus pandemic to slavery.

In remarks Wednesday night at an event hosted by Hillsdale College, Barr had called the lockdown orders the “greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history” since slavery.

His comments, at a Northern Virginia event hosted by the school, also criticised his own prosecutors for behaving as “headhunters” in their pursuit of prominent targets and for using the weight of the criminal justice system to launch what he said were “ill-conceived” political probes.

Representative James Clyburn, D-SC, the No 3 House Democratic leader, told CNN that Barr's remarks were “the most ridiculous, tone-deaf, God-awful things I've ever heard” because they wrongly equated human bondage with a measure aimed at saving lives.

“Slavery was not about saving lives. It was about devaluing lives,” Clyburn said. “This pandemic is a threat to human life.”

It's not the first time Barr has condemned stay-at-home orders.

He has previously said that some orders were “disturbingly close to house arrest”, and the Justice Department sent letters to several states warning that some of their virus-related restrictions might be unlawful. Prosecutors also filed statements of interest in several civil cases challenging some of the restrictions.

Barr has faced scrutiny for overruling the decisions of Justice Department prosecutors who work for him, including in criminal cases involving associates of President Donald Trump. But in his remarks, he rejected the notion that prosecutors should have final say in cases that they bring. Instead, Barr described them as part of the “permanent bureaucracy” and suggested they need to be supervised, and even reined in, by politically appointed leaders accountable to the president and Congress.

“The men and women who have ultimate authority in the Justice Department are thus the ones on whom our elected officials have conferred that responsibility — by presidential appointment and Senate confirmation,” Barr said. “That blessing by the two political branches of government gives these officials democratic legitimacy that career officials simply do not possess”.

Barr himself has been aggressive as attorney general in pursuing certain categories of prosecutions, including using federal statutes to charge defendants in the unrest that roiled cities after the death of George Floyd. But he warned that prosecutors can become overly attached to their cases in ways that lose perspective and judgement, listing a series of prosecutions — including under previous administrations — in which he said he believed the Government had taken extreme positions.

“Individual prosecutors can sometimes become headhunters, consumed with taking down their target,” Barr said. “Subjecting their decisions to review by detached supervisors ensures the involvement of dispassionate decision-makers in the process.”

Barr's comments appeared to be a thinly veiled reference to the fracas that arose ahead of the February sentencing of Trump confidant Roger Stone. In that case, Barr overruled the sentencing recommendation of the line prosecutors in favor of a lighter punishment. The move prompted the entire trial team to quit before Stone's sentencing hearing. Barr has defended his intervention as in the interests of justice.

In May, he sought the dismissal of the criminal case against former Trump Administration national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation to lying to the FBI. Barr's request is tied up in a court fight.

Also yesterday, a spokeswoman for Barr said the Justice Department had explored charging Portland officials in the civil unrest there. They researched whether they could levy criminal or civil charges against the officials — exploring whether their rhetoric and actions may have helped spur the violence in Portland. The move underscored the larger Trump Administration's effort to spotlight and crack down on protest-related violence. The majority of the mass police reform demonstrations nationwide have been peaceful.


Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at http://bit.ly/epaper-login


ADVERTISEMENT




POST A COMMENT

HOUSE RULES

1. We welcome reader comments on the top stories of the day. Some comments may be republished on the website or in the newspaper � email addresses will not be published.

2. Please understand that comments are moderated and it is not always possible to publish all that have been submitted. We will, however, try to publish comments that are representative of all received.

3. We ask that comments are civil and free of libellous or hateful material. Also please stick to the topic under discussion.

4. Please do not write in block capitals since this makes your comment hard to read.

5. Please don't use the comments to advertise. However, our advertising department can be more than accommodating if emailed: advertising@jamaicaobserver.com.

6. If readers wish to report offensive comments, suggest a correction or share a story then please email: community@jamaicaobserver.com.

7. Lastly, read our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy



comments powered by Disqus
ADVERTISEMENT

Poll

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

Today's Cartoon

Click image to view full size editorial cartoon
ADVERTISEMENT