By David Codrea
USA – -(Ammoland.com)- “Texas City, the Tuskegee Syphilis study, Ruby Ridge, Waco, Fast and Furious, the VA hospital scandal – time after time, government employees kill Americans by negligence, stupidity, or agency corruption, and time after time they escape all legal accountability,” attorney and author David T. Hardy told me about his latest book prior to its release.
Now that “I’m From the Government, and I’m Here to Kill You: The Human Cost of Official Negligence” has been published, Hardy accepted my invitation for an exclusive Q&A that will give readers further insights into how and why such travesties occur.
Here’s the interview:
David Codrea – (DC): You say Americans could better hold government accountable under the rule of King George than we can today. That seems counterintuitive to the contention that we’re “the land of the free.” What do you mean and what role does the concept of “sovereign immunity” play?
David Hardy – (DH): At the time of George III (who really wasn’t half as bad as the Declaration painted him) the principle of sovereign immunity meant that “the king can do no wrong,” and indeed he cannot even think of a wrong. But notice “the king.” You couldn’t sue or prosecute George III. But you could sue or prosecute any royal official carrying out his orders. In fact, the British courts would not allow such officials to plead that they were following his orders – because the king cannot even think of a legal wrong.
Look at the Boston Massacre: Massachusetts Bay Colony had no trouble prosecuting the redcoats. But in the 19th century, American courts pulled away from this principle, and began to rule that federal officials could not be sued or prosecuted, no matter how bad their actions were. Yes, we are today much less free, and government much less accountable, than it was in time of George III.
DC: Many have never heard of the Texas City Disaster. Briefly, what happened and what was the upshot?
DH: After World War II, the government needed fertilizer for the Marshall Plan, in order to help Europe and Japan recover. Some bureaucrat decided that, during the War, munitions plants had produced sensitized ammonium nitrate (mixed with wax and oil) to fill artillery shells, and it would probably make good fertilizer. The plants were re-opened and the stuff was produced – but it was made in ways known to be dangerous, and the bureaucracy ignored all warnings of this.
2,300 tons of sensitized ammonium nitrate was loaded onto a ship in Texas City harbor. It caught fire, and detonated in an enormous explosion (the ship’s 3,200 pound anchor landed a mile-and-a-half inland) that killed over 600 people and leveled much of the town. The decedents’ next of kin and injured survivors sued, it went all the way to the US Supreme Court, which ruled that the government was immune from suit. So they lost their case.
DC: It’s interesting that then-Assistant AG and future Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger essentially regarded the victims as deep pockets opportunists. Do you recall what he said about the Second Amendment, not in any decision, but in Parade Magazine?
DH: Sure, in 1990 he called the individual rights view of the Second Amendment a “fraud on the American public.” By 1990, the individual rights view had been proven in law review articles and books. Prof. Sanford Levinson, one of the “big names” in Constitutional law, had published an article in Yale Law Journal endorsing the individual right view. I doubt Burger bothered to read any of this before pontificating on it.
DC: I saw small-scale bureaucratic arrogance bordering on bullying on a private sector job where one of my responsibilities was to secure city permits. You worked in the federal government for years. What does your experience tell you about the relationship of arrogance with increased power? Can you give any examples?
DH: The relationship of power to arrogance is not universal, but clearly exists. I recall a few cases from my days at Interior. In one, agents seized an alleged illegal falcon, and an antique plane used to transport it. The owner was found not guilty. But in the meantime they had stored the plane outdoors, and a hailstorm destroyed its fabric covering. My reaction was – we lost, we screwed up, pay to have it re-covered and return it. The agency’s reaction was to research how they could avoid paying.
Another case was the “Rails to Trails” program. During World War II, I believe, the government wanted to build a bunch of railroads on an emergency basis. It bought private land for that, using deeds that had a reverter clause: if the government ever stopped using the land for a railroad, ownership of the land would be returned to the seller. There were, I think, thousands of miles of land like this where the government no longer needed the land and had removed the rails and ties. Then someone came up with idea that if the government kept the land, it could turn it into long hiking trails. My thought: a deal is a deal. The land is now privately owned, see if the owner will sell it to you. The agency’s reaction: keep the land and claim someday we might have to put rails on it again, and that’s good enough. The claim finally got to the Supreme Court some years ago, which rejected the agency claim.
DC: One of your chapters is devoted to atomic testing. Was much of the fallout from that, pun intended, due to ignorance on the part of many in the program who had no idea the damage that would be done? Was the cover-up motivated more by after-the-fact realization of that damage or was there a core of decision-makers that knew from the start and found the risks acceptable?
DH: Radiation hazards were minimized at the beginning, but the government could hardly argue ignorance. It gave its civilian workers radiation badges to record how they got, and limited their exposure. When one of its observers wound up in a fallout cloud, he was told to get indoors, shower repeatedly, and discard his clothing. At the same time, citizens who were in the fallout path and got hit repeatedly – badly enough to get radiation skin burns and have their hair fall out – were told it was completely safe and if it ever was dangerous the government would warn them.
After it became apparent that humans and livestock were powerfully affected, the cover up began, a cover up that included forging documents and intimidating witnesses.
DC: The Tuskegee Study, where the government intentionally left syphilis in rural black men untreated so they could study its progression – it seems like something we would expect from Josef Mengele. How did something like this occur over an extended period without being exposed, and is the “just following orders” inertia so automatic and strong that it’s instinctive, rather than something to continually wrestle with the conscience?
DH: The study went on for decades, from the 1930s to the 1970s. Nobody got penicillin, and the government officials got angry at doctors who gave it on their own. The study was written up in medical journals, as if the humans involved were lab animals. Only one person protested, writing one of the medical journals, which ignored his letter. There seems to have been no objection until one government worker (my friend, arms collector Peter Buxton) was shocked to hear of it, and blew the whistle.
DC: With all the “going along to get along” we see over and over again in the examples you explore, do you find it believable when excuse-makers in government write off wrongdoing to “a few bad apples”? Especially since many more than actually commit bad deeds remain silent when they know they’re taking place?
DH: There seem to be a LOT of bad apples out there, enough to where the good apples stand out as “not team players.” When an agency purpose conflicts with human safety, with honesty and honor, with respecting the rights of others, the agency purpose wins out. We’re aware how this happens with big corporations. Dangerous design flaws are hushed up, mismanagement hidden. Imagine what it would be like if corporate officials were told they had no legal risk no matter how egregious their actions, and that they would only be prosecuted if their company agreed to it? That’s the government’s situation.
Just to give you one example: the Postal Service had a deliveryman whose coworkers call him “Lester the Molester,” and who was under indictment for child molestation. The Postal Service put him back on his route, and the molested two more children. Their parents sued, and the court rules the Postal Service was immune from suit. Yes, government officials can do as they please with full legal immunity.
DC: You go into Ruby Ridge and the killings of Vicki and Sammy Weaver. I’ve long been interested in the decision by the Boundary Country prosecutor to drop the pursuit for justice. Do you buy that it was motivated by a desire for “closure,” and would the expense have really been prohibitive, especially with growing awareness within the patriot and civil liberties communities?
DH: I think the people of the county just got worn out fighting the entire of the US government, so the country prosecutor lost the next election. Time to get back to local needs. So the federal agents literally got away with murder.
DC: Waco: Was Janet Reno’s “for the children” justification within the purview of the federal government or a matter for Texas law enforcement? Could the whole thing have been avoided if ATF had accepted David Koresh’s invitation to talk?
DH: If Koresh was doing a Harvey Weinstein without Hollywood approval, it was matter for local police, not one for the federal government and certainly not one for ATF. I think ATF went into that in their search warrant application only because they saw the application as a press release, and nothing grabs press attention like sex.
It probably could have been avoided if ATF had accepted Koresh’s invitation to come out and look at his guns and his paperwork. It could also have been avoided if they’d arrested him peacefully.
ATF claimed they couldn’t make a peaceful arrest because Koresh never left the building and they didn’t know what he looked like. In my book and at my webpage I reproduce an ATF report of what their undercover agents did on February 19, nine days before the raid and shoot out.
The agents went shooting. With David Koresh. He carried the ammo and was unarmed. The claim he couldn’t be arrested peacefully was a complete lie. ATF knew that a peaceful arrest wouldn’t get much publicity, and publicity was what it wanted.
DC: For all the years it’s been in existence, and all the money spent, do we have any idea how many hostages the FBI Hostage Rescue Team has rescued?
DH: Maybe I just haven’t heard (though considering the FBI’s drive for publicity that seems unlikely) but I think the count stands as zero. FBI negotiators have had several successes, particularly when the HRT wasn’t available to mess things up.
DC: You say the government is “looking for terror in all the wrong places.” Where should they be looking?
DH: The government has constantly been protesting that it needs more information on all of us, more monitoring of our email and calls, etc.. While that increases its power, it just floods the system with useless information that can obscure the valuable data. At 9/11, local agents were reporting that Saudi students were taking flight training for no known reason, and didn’t seem interesting in take off or in landing. That should have set off alarm bells…. But no one seemed to care. It was just some more data in a huge stream of data.
DC: What do you think the reason was behind encouraging and allowing Operation Fast and Furious “gun walking”?
DH: The evidence all points to a political motive: more gun control. President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were already calling for gun control on the theme that guns found at Mexican crime scenes were being traced to the US. The US Attorney in charge was a former Clinton White House official, who’d boasted that he drafted the first federal “assault weapon ban.” ATF officials rejoiced when Mexican gun traces happened, and encourage gun dealers to sell to suspicious buyers, telling the dealers that it was all part of a law enforcement operation and the guns would never actually get to the drug cartels. These were all lies. The object was to get the guns to the cartels, let the cartels use them in crime, and get the guns traced back to the US.
DC: You raise the issue of police militarization. Care to speculate on how The Battle of Athens would have gone down if veterans trying to protect the vote had to face corrupt officers in control of such firepower and capabilities?
DH: Hmmm…. Corrupt officials deploying armored vehicles, grenade launchers, and millions of dollars of other military equipment… I’d say the bad guys would have won in half an hour.
DC: What’s going on at the Department of Veterans Affairs? With all the lip service Washington pays to America’s armed service members, how is it that we still hear horror stories?
DH: Because it’s rotten to the core. They brought in a skilled general to reform the place, and he resigned because the place was so corrupt that it could not be cleaned out. It has to be replaced.
Do federal civilian employees have a similar hospital system? Of course not. They get their pick of dozens of federally subsidized private insurance plans.
The VA system only exists because of a historical quirk nearly two centuries old. It started out as rest homes for elderly veterans, not as a hospital system. It’s time to get rid of it.
DC: You end up talking about “putting a leash on the deadly bureaucracy.” Describe the leash. Would those accustomed to doing the leashing submit to one without a credible “or else,” and do you see a realistic way it will be accomplished politically?
DH: The leash I describe in the book has several elements. First, re-write the Federal Tort Claims Act, which allows suit against the government (under tight restrictions and with big exceptions) so that it broadly allows suit against negligent officials who harm us. And provide that when a citizen wins a suit, the agency pays, not the general government fund. If agencies take a hit on their budget every time their negligence kills or injures, they’ll start being very careful of our safety.
Second, allow states to prosecute federal employees who violate state criminal law, and at the same time also violate our rights under the US Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Third, create a special agency to deal with agency negligence and violations of rights. An agency attracts employees who agree with its mission, and agencies have no compunction about messing with other agencies. I’ve been there. They can even take a malicious joy in messing with other agencies. It’s fun. I know from experience.
Finally, redraft the federal rules on criminal procedure to require the government to disclose much more evidence. Some state codes require this, and their law enforcement has not collapsed, and the prosecutors are a lot more honest. Why, under the federal system, are grand jury transcripts considered a state secret, where prosecutors can see them but not the defense? The defendant can in theory challenge misconduct before the grand jury, but how can he do so if he can’t see what happened? The federal system seriously stacks the odds against the defendant. If the government has a good, honest case, why is it allowed to hide things?
Politically feasible? Sure, if Congress shows a little guts. And this is a cause that can unite small-government conservatives and liberals. In my book I spell out exactly how to change the law. It spans all of three pages. You don’t have to pass the bill in order to find out what’s in it.
“I’m from the Government and I’m Here to Kill You” is available in hardcover and Kindle versions from Amazon, and hardcover and Nook versions from Barnes & Noble.
Disclosure: Mr. Hardy has represented my interests in legal actions to obtain information from the government and is part of what a U.S. Attorney who came on board during the Obama administration has pejoratively described as “a tangled web of connections between a small cadre of firearms activists.”
About David Codrea:
David Codrea is the winner of multiple journalist awards for investigating / defending the RKBA and a long-time gun owner rights advocate who defiantly challenges the folly of citizen disarmament.
In addition to being a field editor/columnist at GUNS Magazine and associate editor for Oath Keepers, he blogs at “The War on Guns: Notes from the Resistance,” and posts on Twitter: @dcodrea and Facebook.