I fear the most recent grotesque example of US hypocrisy is getting swept under the rug, so I want to take a moment to try and grasp what it all means.
It was revealed last week that HSBC, one of the world’s largest banks, has been involved in a number of criminal acts over recent years. These crimes have mainly involved laundering billions of dollars for Mexican drug cartels and groups linked to Al Qaeda. There was even evidence that senior bank officials were in on the whole thing.
What was the outcome of this unveiling of such blatant crimes? HSBC was asked to pay a fine (of minimal proportions in comparison to its profits), and received NO CRIMINAL PENALTY.
I won’t go into the disastrous effects of the international drug trade, and I’m probably not the right person to do such a thing, but it’s safe to say that the drug trade fuels violence, poverty, gang activity, and a multitude of other detrimental phenomena in many countries. Yet it seems the US’ main approach to dealing with drug crime is to throw average American citizens in jail for possession of drugs like marijuana, an approach that disproportionately targets minorities and the poor. And when HSBC is found to be guilty of crimes that surely play a much bigger role in fueling the international drug trade than my neighbor smoking a joint that one time, not a single person is prosecuted.
Even moreso than the drug trade, the US government repeatedly presents terrorism as one of the greatest threats to the United States. Accordingly, the US regularly detains people all over the world, illegally, with no charge, where they may be held for undefined periods of time and subject to cruel and inhumane treatment. This even applies to US citizens, though the chances of this happening to you are substantially higher if you are brown or Muslim. Yet when one of the largest financial institutions in the world is found to be moving money for potential terrorist groups, to the tune of billions of dollars, it gets away with barely a slap on the wrist.
Not a single person at HSBC was jailed or penalized for their actions. The reasoning? HSBC is too big, and too important, to be prosecuted. (A nice extension of 2008’s tagline, “too big to fail.”) Meaningfully prosecuting HSBC, it is argued, could undermine the entire banking system!
I think it’s quite clear who is really in power here. The US government, or should I say the corporate interests that essentially run it, do not care about the rights of US citizens or the human rights of internationals. The ruling elite is interested in protecting one right only, and that is the right of that elite to continue pursuing profit at whatever cost.
Obviously, Glenn Greenwald explains it better than I do: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/dec/12/hsbc-prosecution-fine-money-laundering
Matt Taibbi with further thoughts: http://www.democracynow.org/2012/12/13/matt_taibbi_after_laundering_800_million