Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Libby avoids jail... are we surprised?

I believe that the Constitution needs an amendment stating that no sitting President shall have the authority to issue pardons for any behavior undertaken as part of his administration, or as part of an administration for which he served as vice president.

It strikes me as a common sense proposal, an amendment that prevents certain obvious abuses of power. A President should not have the power to order, or allow, an underling to disobey the law, with the promise that no punishment will be incurred. It also means that if a President is impeached, or resigns, we won't have a repeat of Gerald Ford's performance. People praised Ford's pardon of Nixon as a way to speed healing... but that Nixon was able to get away with his crimes was an abscess in this country's spirit, and you only heal an abscess when you've drained all the poison out.

If we'd learned the entire truth about the Nixon administration, and Nixon had then been pardoned, I wouldn't have nearly as much of a problem with it, but you don't heal an abscess by covering it with a bandage, or even by removing the worst of it. You need to drain it dry.

I've studied the Wilson/Plame issue at great length. People have called the Wilsons liars. Why?

Well, he said he debunked the "sixteen words" in the President's State of the Union. He had; President Bush knew (or was incompetent for not knowing) that there was no attempt to procure "significant quantities" of uranium from Niger, since the most that had occurred was circuitous talk about "expanding trade relations".

He said he was sent by the CIA after a request to the CIA from the office of the Vice President. For some reason, his detractors turned this into "he claims Cheney sent him". So the people calling Wilson a liar are making up lies to do so.

People have suggested that maybe his trip to Niger was a junket sponsored by his wife, who did not have the authority to send him, or to order someone else to send him. Plus, Google on "niger tourist attraction"; when I did so, the first entry's snippet reads "This is definitely not a standard tourist attraction". Again, people are making up ridiculous stories to accuse him of lying.

People have suggested that he lied about his wife having something to do with the trip, and are in such a frenzy over this that they clearly think it impeaches his credibility, but let's just pretend that his wife did have something to do with it. How would we know that's a lie? "Honey, I just asked the agency to send you to Africa to interview a bunch of people; they aren't willing to pay you, but they'll cover expenses" isn't exactly conducive to marital harmony. He could be telling the truth as best as he knows. Of course, under oath, Valerie has testified that all she did was write a memo repeating another colleague's recommendations - meaning she didn't make the recommendation herself - and talk to him, and later, introduce him. That's nothing substantial towards getting him to go. "She had nothing to do with sending him" is true; she had something to do with arranging a meeting between him and the CIA.

But hell... even if it was a lie, the man picked a fight with the government, and they went after his wife. For every man I know who I can imagine in that situation, I'm sure their first thought would be "My wife has nothing to do with this; your fight is with me!" Technically true or not, it's what you'd expect him to say. But we have every reason to believe that it's also technically true, and no reason to think it's false.

So, Joseph Wilson did what any good American would do. He tried to go through official channels to correct the story the President told, hoping to head off a war that would kill tens of thousands of innocent people. He failed. He kept pushing back, and finally, went public.

And what did the Bush administration do in return?

It set up a deniable operation, where two operatives tried to sow doubt about Wilson. Libby and Rove both spread information about Valerie Wilson, who traveled to other countries, without official cover, to try to find information about WMDs in places like Iraq and Iran, under her maiden name of Valerie Plame. (Armitage also let the name slip accidentally. This is very different from the actions of Libby and Rove, specifically trying to push the name to various reporters in hopes of getting one to burn her.)

The law against leaking the name of an operative is hard to prosecute. Even though Rove truthfully admitted that he spread her name and status around, he was not prosecuted under the law. Libby, on the other hand, lied to investigators and the grand jury. Without his truthful testimony, we could not learn whether or not the law had been violated. Because of this, Fitzgerald brought charges against him for perjury and for obstruction of justice - hiding information that would allow any other crimes to be prosecuted.

Valerie Wilson was a valued asset by the CIA, a successful researcher into WMD programs in Iran and Iraq. Her disclosure caused a great deal of work to be lost, and set back our ability to research these issues. People who trusted the CIA would, at best, be in fear for their lives or freedoms, and unwilling to trust the next CIA operative that comes along. At worst, those people are dead or in prison.

What Libby and Rove did - we may safely assume under deniable orders by Bush and Cheney - was a serious matter, even if some parts weren't technically illegal. But Libby went beyond that. He lied to cover things up, to prevent us from knowing what really happened. Thirty months in jail, two and a half years, is not "excessive" by any stretch of the imagination, not by anyone who is trying to see that the laws of this country are faithfully executed, not for someone who is concerned with protecting our nation.

But Bush said it was excessive, and wiped the jail term out completely. We can safely assume he will do what he can to prevent any other penalty in the future. Right now, though, it's awfully convenient to have Libby convicted, with his case under appeal.

Once he has been fully pardoned, he can be compelled to testify - Fifth Amendment rights only apply if you can be harmed by your testimony, and a pardon removes that potential for harm. Now, he can still stand on his Fifth Amendment rights, claiming there's question as to whether his conviction will stand.

President Bush can buy and pay for loyalty to himself, without worrying about loyalty to the nation, or the Constitution.

I'm afraid that all I can say to this is a common, and apt, initialism: ITMFA.

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