There is no connection, of course, between the prosecution of notorious gangster James "Whitey" Bulger and the recent spate of scandals and revelations roiling the Obama administration. Or is there?
Law enforcement and criminal justice are essential functions of government. No civilized society could survive for long if it lacked tools to combat lawlessness or make dangerous villains answer for their crimes. And Bulger was certainly dangerous — "one of the most vicious, violent criminals ever to walk the streets of Boston," as Assistant US Attorney Fred Wyshak called him in summing up for the prosecution last week.
But Bulger wasn't the only one on trial in Boston's federal courthouse. So was the government trying him. Bulger and his henchmen may have been the degenerates who physically committed the gruesome murders and other crimes that jurors learned about during 35 days of sometimes stomach-churning testimony. But it was other degenerates, in the FBI and the Justice Department, who for so long enabled Bulger's bloody mayhem. They enlisted Bulger as an informant, protected him from police investigations, and warned him to flee when an indictment was imminent. "If the FBI had not made Whitey its favorite mobster, broken the rules, and rigged the game to his benefit," reporter David Boeri has concluded, "Bulger would never have reached as high as he did."
The corruption of the federal government was a key element in Bulger's trial, as it was in so much of his sadistic career. Officials charged with defending the public from gangsters like Bulger used their considerable influence to defend the gangster instead.
It would be comforting to believe that this was a one-off, that law enforcement agencies never abuse their authority, that the immense powers of the federal government are always deployed with scrupulous integrity. But no one believes that.