Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Why Are Federal Prosecutors Stealing Our Riches?

     Several days ago 26-year-old Aaron Swartz hanged himself in his New York apartment.  Aaron was a brilliant, innovative computer programmer who was driven to suicide by a federal prosecutor, Stephen Heymann (working under Carmen Ortiz), whose "tough-on-white-collar crime" ethos meant Swartz would face a long prison sentence for tapping into MIT's data base and making millions of academic papers available on-line for free.  No amount of plea-bargaining could sway Heymann from his insistence that Swartz go to jail, and this is more likely to have been because Heymann needed to prove himself to the DOJ (and to his illustrious Watergate-prosecuting father, Deputy Attorney Philip Heymann) than because Swartz represented a danger to society.
     If Swartz committed a crime, it was one from which we could have learned a great deal.  Internet data is highly vulnerable to hacking:  Swartz could have shown us how to seal chinks in the current barricades.  This amazing young man should not have died--and there are many who will say that suicide signifies a deep emotional disturbance.  But any sensitive person subjected to this much public opprobrium with no hope for escape, and facing one of our livid, insensitive, no-holds-barred federal prosecutors bent on climbing the political ladder even if it means abandoning the nuances of the concept of justice, would be driven to the same solution.  I doubt if I could have withstood the pressures Swartz faced--all because he had an innovative mind and a genius for the labyrinthine innards of computer software-- at 26.
     "Aaron's death is not simply a personal tragedy," his family said.  "It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach."
     "The government used the same laws designed to go after bank robbers to go after this digital genius," said a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union.
     "Unchecked power in the hands of federal prosecutors is a threat to democracy," said the New York Times, in an August 19, 2012 article, "Prosecutors' Overreaching Goes Unchecked."  "We must do a better job of holding prosecutors accountable."
     In 2008 another computer whiz, Jonathan James, committed suicide after being charged by federal officials with breaching retail internet sites.  "I have no faith in the justice system," he said in his suicide note.  "The feds play dirty."
     The true value of America lies in its people.  Geniuses like Swartz and James are this country's riches.  So are physicians who dedicate themselves, like many others, to making America great.  Prosecutors are now investigating and charging 2,400 physicians for fraud, abuse, racketeering, money-laundering and conspiracy.  Can they possible have grounds for such mayhem against professionals who as a group tend to be sensitive, intelligent, and defenseless against such charges, and against power-bloated policemen wielding very big weaponry?
    Why is the federal government stealing and destroying the very minds that demonstrate to the world that the United States is the hub of creativity and innovation?  Does our justice system want to wipe out all the raw materials that serve as the basis of our uniqueness?  Do they think the system will keep on replenishing itself with people like Aaron, or Jonathan, or committed doctors like me, as though such individuals emerge spontaneously, as though they could rise out of an oppressive system that punishes inspiration, originality, and success?  Are prosecutors unbalanced?  Or completely self-serving?  Or just plain dumb?

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