In July, the Canadian corporation Enbridge, Inc. announced that one of its pipelines had leaked and spilled an estimated 1,200 barrels of crude oil in a field in Wisconsin. Two years ago, an Enbridge pipeline spilled more than 19,000 barrels in Michigan. The Michigan spill affected more than 50 kilometers of waterways and wetlands and about 320 people reported medical symptoms from crude oil exposure. The US National Transportation Safety Board said that at $800 million it was the costliest onshore spill cleanup in the nation’s history. The NTSB found that Enbridge knew of a defect in the pipeline five years before it burst. According to Enbridge’s own reports, the company had 800 spills between 1999 and 2010, releasing close to 7 million gallons of crude oil.
No executive or other employee of Enbridge has been charged with any kind of crime. How many environmental murderers of modern times have been punished?
During a period of a few years beginning around 2007, several thousand employees of stock brokers, banks, mortgage companies, insurance companies, credit-rating agencies, and other financial institutions, mainly in New York, had great fun getting obscenely rich while creating and playing with pieces of paper known by names like derivatives, collateralized debt obligations, index funds, credit default swaps, structured investment vehicles, subprime mortgages, and other exotic terms, for which, it must be kept in mind, there had been no public need or demand. The result has been a severe depression, seriously hurting hundreds of millions of lives in the United States and abroad.
No employee of any of these companies has seen the inside of a prison cell for playing such games with our happiness.
For more than half a century members of the United States foreign policy and military establishments have compiled a record of war crimes and crimes against humanity that the infamous beasts and butchers of history could only envy.
Not a single one of these American officials has come any closer to a proper judgment than going to see the movie “Judgment at Nuremberg”.
Yet, we live in the United States of Punishment for countless other criminal types; more than two million presently rotting their lives away. No other society comes even close to this, no matter how the statistics are calculated. And many of those in American prisons are there for victimless crimes.
On the other hand, we see the Chinese sentencing their citizens to lengthy prison terms, even execution, for environmental crimes.
We have an Iranian court recently trying 39 people for a $2.6 billion bank loan embezzlement carried out by individuals close to the political elite or with their assent. Of the 39 people tried, four were sentenced to hang, two to life in prison, and others received terms of up to 25 years; in addition to prison time, some were sentenced to flogging, ordered to pay fines, and banned from government jobs.
And in Argentina in early July, in the latest of a long series of trials of former Argentine officials, former dictator Jorge Rafael Videla was convicted and sentenced to 50 years for a systematic plan to steal babies from women prisoners who were kidnapped, tortured and killed during the military junta’s war on leftist dissenters — the “dirty war” of 1976-83 that claimed 13,000 victims. Many of the women had “disappeared” shortly after giving birth. Argentina’s last dictator, Reynaldo Bignone, was also convicted and got 15 years. Outside the courthouse a jubilant crowd watched on a big screen and cheered each sentence.
As an American, how I envy the Argentines. Get the big screen ready for The Mall in Washington. We’ll have showings of the trials of the Bushes and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Obama. And Henry Kissinger, a strong supporter of the Argentine junta among his many contributions to making the world a better place. And let’s not forget the executives of Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Bank of America, and Enbridge, Inc. Fining them just money is pointless. We have to fine them years, lots of them.
Without imprisoning these people, nothing will change. That’s become a cliché, but we very well see what continues to happen without imprisonment. And it’s steadily getting worse, financially and imperially.
William Blum is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, Rogue State: a guide to the World’s Only Super Power and West-Bloc Dissident: a Cold War Political Memoir. He can be reached at: BBlum6@aol.com