There are plenty of stories ripe for lampooning. A ton of stories begging for your attention: We could stare in open-mouthed disbelief with the rest of the mainstream media at the Mumbai terrorist attacks, which is exactly what we are being instructed to do on most every news front. Which is exactly the reason we should resist the temptation. Mumbai, a terrible terrorist tragedy at a very opportune time for those given to oppressing, is almost too exquisitely 9/11-ish. Terror Takes Center Stage, ignore all other news stories.
I also refuse to drink the Kool-Aid over the appointment of Jim Jones, General Jim Jones that is, to NSA chief, along with the return of Robert Gates at Defense and “Why-the-hell-not, Hillary Clinton” to the Secretary of State. Mainstream media may be gawking at how smoothly the transition is going. But from the view we get out here in the sticks, the baton passing isn’t so impressive. We already know the truth: the less you change, the easier the transition.
If Obama really was working to improve our security, he’d do more to protect us from the outgoing Bush admin, who are just about finished rewriting the Labor Dept. workplace safety standards on toxic exposures. According to the New York Times, this is the first of many little nuggets on Bush’s final to-do list of still more ways to screw us before leaving office.
For that matter Obama could also make a statement or two about Rep. Jerrold Nadler’s efforts to prevent Bush pre-emptive pardons for his outgoing lackeys. Stopping Bush or at least promising to undo him is “change that we need.” Restaging a faux Clinton Camelot is “more of the same.” Now there’s the chant we should be hearing. Where’s that Biden when you need him?
But for me, over these last two weeks, the story that has hit closest to home came from my hometown, Raymondville, Texas; and from a friend I have kept up with since high school, more than 30 years ago, Juan Angel “Johnny” Guerra. Touch me, I’m famous. Once upon a time I had PE with the guy who tried to lock up Dick Cheney.
Many on both the left and the right side of the media will spin this story down to nothing and have been aiming to bury it as quietly as possible. But for me, Juan Angel Guerra is a hero I wish more people would write about.
I was in Raymondville for my mother’s funeral on Oct. 23rd, so my wife and I dropped by his county offices to see him, the day he initially filed the then-secret, now famous, or infamous, indictments. He shut the doors and leaned to us to whisper. He told us of a massive corruption and prisoner abuse case he had just finished with the grand jury. The case was too big, too hot. It was nationwide. It went all the way to the top. He couldn’t even talk about it there.
We followed him to his house out by the county line. It felt like the scene in the second reel of a movie where the brainiac explains the secret plot to the hapless dupes while they are checking to see if that black SUV is following them. Turned out, with the aid of a woman named Blanca, Guerra had been secretly pursuing the case for years. He had corporate flow charts and prisoner rights videos in stacks, folders of folders in folders of folders on his desktop, and cases, literally cases, of paper files stacked around the room. The whole house that we could see had been turned into a private office for this one case.
But it was too much to comprehend, especially while dealing with 80 years of my family’s debris and 50 years of my own memories. We left with my head a-swirl. I offered to write a story about the indictments when they came out, you know, to help promote them. He said that was OK. He was already in touch with the New York Times. We laughed, but it was true.
On November 17th Guerra stunned the world by managing to do what no other prosecutorial official in the United States had had the cajones to attempt: he brought charges against Dick Cheney and Alberto Gonzales. These weren’t little charges either. Cheney was accused of using his influence as vice president to direct prisoners and prison money to have ICE immigration prisons built to be managed by a company he owns stock in. And, further, that in the interest of making a profit, this company cuts so many corners as regards prisoner medical treatment and safety that prisoners in the Raymondville Texas facility and across the country had died as a direct consequence of that willful neglect.
As for Gonzales, the charge was that he had used his power as US Attorney General to stop investigations into GEO Group in general and the Raymondville prisons in particular. Further, Gonzales was only one of many in the criminal justice system who sought to stymie Guerra’s investigations into corruption in the prison system. As part of the long ranging efforts to thwart Guerra’s investigations into the prison corruption case, for 18 months trumped up indictments hung over his head, hobbling his investigation and losing him his re-election bid. In addition to the high profile targets like Cheney and Gonzales, there were a handful of local indictments bundled in the mix for good measure.
You probably never heard the story reported that way. You weren’t supposed to. The Guerra story was meant to marginalize any die-hards who still had hopes of seeing criminal justice-style retribution against the blasphemies of the Bushco years. The case was made to look like a loser from the get. The majority of the news stories that reported on Guerra’s effort to follow one money trail through the corrupt side of the American Police State Prison Economy movement were written to make Guerra out as the fool for indicting the people who had worked together to falsely indict him, and depicted the Cheney-Gonzales connection as outlandishly Byzantine at best, and most likely, simply preposterous.
It was a story built up to tear down. Even the Left was supposed to laugh at the country bumpkin county DA who once protested those charges against himself by camping in the front yard of the county court house with farm animals. Jon Stewart took his turn at mocking Guerra’s efforts on the Daily Show, leading his show with a bit about it when news of the indictments was new. Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales tried to crowd him explaining the complex paper trail that took years to assemble into an interview with less than 10 minute for the segment, leaving Guerra looking inarticulate, out of his depth and chopping off his entire explanation of the Gonzales connection.
It all went as planned. Despite Guerra’s stalling efforts to give the story time to build momentum, the story instead was laughed off in less than a week. Except Guerra didn’t know he was a joke. He thought it really was wrong to use positions of power to swing government contracts. He thought it was wrong to hinder investigations into the abuse, neglect and deaths of prisoners. It was wrong to leave people, even guilty ones, to suffer and die more often in exchange for making an extra buck or two; and wrong for him to not try to do something about it.
But, he was wrong. Like I said, it was a story built to tear down. You weren’t supposed to believe it anyway. That story was officially put to rest today, Dec. 1, as so many of us feared it would: all charges being summarily dismissed. On a technicality no less, with none of Guerra’s reams of amassed evidence even admitted.
On the 10th is a hearing to stop him from attempting to re-file indictments in revised form. Since his term ends at New Year’s, the case will then be lost and soon forgotten. One doubts whether national media, which briefly hovered around the tantalizing prospect of Cheney on trial, before moving on to other issues to drone to death, will even deign report the outcome.
Like I say, most of us knew the case would come to nothing. Motions upon motions would delay, misconstrue and eventually bury any case such as this where an earthling tries to reach up and touch power with justice. But for a couple of weeks we had another chance to believe that change could possibly actually come.
--mikel weisser writes from the left coast of AZ.
Footnote: Hollywood cinematographer/director Hart Perry, wrote about Guerra and made him one of the stars in the 2003 film, Valley of Tears, Perry’s immense twenty year spanning documentary on race relations in Raymondville, home of the farm workers strike of 1979, the Casteneda v. Pickard lawsuit which established bilingual mandates for schools in America and Guerra. Yours truly appears in the film at 16:27 in the background of a march which came in from west of town, i believe on a Saturday. I'm wearing a white tee shirt, red shorts and looking doofy.