Here’s a bumper sticker I saw recently:


It’s the government I’m afraid of.

I’m not so fond of bumper stickers, but you read them when they appear on the car ahead of you at a red light. The one above contains a good lesson: you can’t entirely love something that you fear. Our government wants you to fear it. If we do not fear it, we would not obey it. If we do not obey it, government’s power dissipates quickly. From government’s perspective, power dissipation means chaos. It also means retribution for the crimes it has committed.

What is the proper reaction when trusted individuals or institutions in authority commit crimes? We have had a lot of opportunity to consider that question in relation to pedophilia in the Catholic Church. Most recently, we have witnessed the trial of Jerry Sandusky, once a trusted coach. Now people say that people at Penn State knew all along what he was doing, but could not admit it or act on their intuition.

What if the criminal institution in question is your own government? Let’s say it’s our government, and the crimes include assassination, torture, international aggression, and treason. If you wanted to find out whether government had committed crimes of that magnitude, how would you do that? Would you ask people in government to find out?

When something suspicious occurs, government agencies normally investigate the possibility of foul play to determine what happened, how it happened, and who was involved. If government is the main suspect in the case, you cannot ask government to investigate itself. Yet under our laws, government agencies are the only bodies with authority to conduct criminal investigations. Can government commit as many crimes as it likes, because no independent prosecutor exists to call the criminals to account?

Let’s take the World Trade Center. When two one-hundred-story towers built of steel and concrete blow up right in front of you, and a third forty-seven story building collapses into itself in a matter of seconds, you ask why something like that might occur. One group says that fires in each building weakened the steel at critical points, causing a progressive collapse in all three cases. Another group says that even intense fires caused by jet fuel cannot melt steel, and even if they did, that structural weakness would not cause steel supports to give way in the floors below.

For a disagreement this fundamental, you want to gather information before you reach a conclusion about what actually happened. You would look for four qualities in people who conduct an investigation into a matter this important:

  • Trustworthiness
  • Possess professional expertise to ask discerning questions, assemble relevant evidence, and draw sound conclusions from the evidence assembled.
  • Free from conflicts of interest during the investigation
  • Resources sufficient to complete the inquiry

Government fails the first three tests, so you have to ask, who is left to conduct an inquiry of this type? How do you investigate a crime when you cannot rely on law enforcement officials to reach truthful conclusions about the event? The fact that we look to government first to conduct such an investigation indicates we have not solved this problem.