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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Criminal Investigation of BP

The Obama Administration announced today that the Justice Department is investigating whether any federal laws were broken by events leading up to the BP oil spill disaster.

This is where statements for public relations purposes cause major legal and justice problems.

The announcement of a criminal investigation after weeks of unabated oil flow raises the question as to why this decision was only reached now. The timing leads one to question whether the investigation is a reaction to the negligence suspected as a cause of the accident, or the embarassment the administration is feeling. If it is the former, why the delay? The delay suggests that mere negligence was not enough to trigger the investigation; it took the PR fiasco of live real-time footage of the escaping oil to trigger it.

Remember, the infamous Abu Ghirab abuses were investigated only after photos got out on the internet.

It logically follows that there are some cases where the true bad act is not considered criminal or sanctionable; rather, what is really criminal - as a practical matter - is doing something (no matter how lawful) which embarasses or hurts the career ambition and prospects of someone in power. Exposing bad acts, incompetence or fraud may fit the bill.

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