The Gulag Comes to America

It has arrived – in the form of the notorious Don Siegelman case.

Jan. 30, 2008 ( – Today, Don Siegelman, former governor of the state of Alabama, sits in a federal prison, sentenced to a seven year term for bribery.

Every day that Siegelman remains in prison every American citizen who openly dissents from the policies and protests the criminality of the Bush/Cheney regime is less free and more vulnerable to politically motivated prosecution.

For the plain fact of the matter is that Don Siegelman is, in effect, a political prisoner. The formal charge against him was bribery. But, practically speaking, his offense was his political success as a Democrat in a “red” Republican state. When Siegelman indicated an interest in reviving his political career, one of his accusers was heard to say, “[We’re] going to take care of Siegelman.” And so they did.

Larisa Alexandrovna, one of the few journalists to investigate this case in depth, writes:

For most Americans, the very concept of political prisoners is remote and exotic, a practice that is associated with third-world dictatorships but is foreign to the American tradition. The idea that a prominent politician – a former state governor – could be tried on charges that many observers consider to be trumped-up, convicted in a trial that involved numerous questionable procedures, and then hauled off to prison in shackles immediately upon sentencing would be almost unbelievable.

Less "unbelievable," perhaps, if we reflect upon a dominant Republican mind-set: politics as warfare, the Democrats as "evil" and "the enemy," and not as "the loyal opposition."  "You are either with us or with the terrorists," said George Bush — no compromise, no alternatives, and no middle ground.   Thus the goal of the GOP warrior is not merely to defeat the Democrats; the goal is to destroy them.

This was the objective of those who brought charges against Don Siegelman, in a case that stinks from top to bottom of political vendetta and manipulation. It’s a rather complicated story, which I cannot recount in detail here. Those details may be found in the Raw Story (Alexandrovna et al) series and the DemocracyNow Scott Horton interview, listed and linked below. However, these are the essential elements:

The bribery charge rose out of Siegelman’s appointment of Richard Scrushy to the Alabama hospital regulatory board, a non-paying position that Scrusky had held under two previous governors.  The appointment followed Scrushy’s donation of a half million dollars to a Siegelman foundation and gained Siegelman no financial advantage whatever. Of course, political favors to donors is routine in both state an federal government, as numerous ambassadorial appointments will testify. Moreover, clearly illegal campaign contributions were received by Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions and Federal Judge William Pryor, who have not been investigated much less prosecuted.

Siegelman held the distinction of serving all four elective state offices: Attorney General, Secretary of State, Lieutenant Governor and Governor.  With his prestige, popularity, and name-recognition, he was a persistent threat to the well-oiled Alabama GOP political machine. As his daughter, Dana, describes it,

The men and women behind this conspiracy have a lot against my dad. My dad wanted an education lottery, brought jobs to the state, made big businesses pay their taxes, sought to completely change Alabama's constitution, raised teachers' salaries, gave African Americans jobs that Caucasians had supremacy over for years, helped in fundraisers for other Democrats, supported the arts, was well-respected on a national level, etc… It was a battle against a truly liberal leader, not some moderate Democrat. He held the highest offices in the state and was Alabama's longest running politician. Republicans wanted their state back, and they got it.

“They got it” through a stolen election. In 2002, Siegelman appeared to have won re-election against Republican challenger Bob Riley. But then, in Baldwin county, Republican election supervisors (no Democrats allowed), locked the doors and “discovered” a “computer glitch” that tilted the election to Riley, whereupon the GOP Attorney General, William Pryor, put the kibosh on Siegelman’s appeal for a recount by sealing the ballots. (Siegelman gives his account of the theft here).

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