James “Whitey” Bulger a hero? Not really. Not ever. He stands accused of murdering 19 people, and has a list of charges longer than Pinocchio’s nose at tax time. But Bulger’s name can go down in the annals of law enforcement right next to former Senator Frank Church’s, whose committee, in the 1970s, stunned the nation with tales of law enforcement misconduct regarding the CIA and FBI and domestic dissent. Bulger’s legacy can be the light shed on confidential informants, a tool used routinely as part of an arsenal of deception the Government uses in the name of justice.
We teach our children that ends do not justify they means; that integrity matters. But when it comes to law enforcement, we bend the rules. Lawmen can lie to a person under investigation. That is an acceptable tactic. But when someone lies to a federal official, even when they are not under oath, it is a federal offense. Why the ethical assymetry? Oh, yeah; we have to adopt the Devil’s tactics to catch the Devil.
That’s the tired theory prosecutors use to bedazzle juries. We need to go to where the witnesses are. We don’t choose our witnesses. We seekers after truth, justice, we defenders of the American way, we must appear to be what we combat, they say. It is any wonder that public confidence in the Government is low? There’s more than a little sulphur on the Government’s shoes.
Bulger was an FBI informer for years. He was a tool the Government used in its holy war against organized crime. But that war cut across convenient ethnic lines. The Italian mobsters, notably the Patriarcha clan, were targeted by federal authorities. Bulger’s Irish band of brothers, the Winter Hill gang, were convenient tools in that war. So the Government made an ally of one organized crime group to fight another. Good Irish cops stood beside good Irish mobsters to teach the Dagos a thing or two.
The trouble is that the Government started looking like a criminal enterprise itself. Innocent men were sent to prison for crimes they did not commit, in order to cover the Government’s tracks. Federal agents winked when the Winter Hill gang cashed in on its special relationship with the sovereign. Bulger has previously boasted that he had as many as six FBI agents on his payroll. To date, only one has been prosecuted.
Bulger is no Robin Hood. The people of Boston most likely won’t take to the streets and demand his freedom. There are the angry families of victims out there. They want a piece of Whitey. But time is short. Bulger is 81. All men are mortals, even those who become legendary as cultural icons.
Bulger’s best defense is something the Government will not permit: the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Hence, his efforts to consolidate all of the charges against him into one proceeding, a move counterintuitive in most criminal cases where the effort is to isolate pieces of a broader puzzle so as to prevent a larger picture from coming into view.
I am rooting for Whitey Bulger in this case. I want to know all about the Government’s relationship with him. I want to know what crimes agents told him he could commit with impunity. I want to learn about confidential informants and government deception. Bulger has always been bold. I hope he is bold in his own defense, just as Senator Church was when he taught us just how low Government agents would stoop to serve their private visions of the truth.
Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.