In the more conservative of the two local daily papers (count them - two! ...and owned by the same parent company) in Madison, WI, there was a recent column by Bill Wineke which advocates a pardon for Scooter Libby on the basis that he's a nice guy, and that other people were involved in leaking Plame's identity too.
Wineke does not seem to be a right-winger, is usually a pretty good columnist, and tends to look at issues from a moral or ethical standpoint...which is why I was surprised by his attitude. Quoting from the column:
Now, President Bush ought to pardon Libby and let him get on with his life.
Libby may have been the only official stupid enough to lie consistently to a grand jury, but he was surely taking the fall for a White House that kept denying in all pious righteousness that it was involved in destroying the career of a trusted government official.
Wineke goes on to argue:
Libby lost his job. His life, surely, has been a living hell for several months. He has been convicted of perjury. He's paid his price and the president, who either knew about the smear against Plame or who was deceived by his closest lieutenants, ought to give him a break.
The only real purpose that might be served by putting Libby in prison would be to convince him to pull the rug out from under Cheney.
I'm pretty outraged by that last bit. Not that I want to see anyone put in jail, per se (well, perhaps most of the Bush administration), but I do naively believe in ethics in government. Here's my letter to Wineke:
While I often enjoy reading your columns, I take exception to your article of March 7th about the Libby conviction. To say that Libby should be pardoned because others were at fault too is nonsensical, and violates the basic premise of personal responsibility under the law. We are each responsible for our own behavior; that Libby acted at the direction of his superiors is without a doubt, but he is still responsible for his actions. Further, Libby is a lawyer and not only must have been fully aware of his liability, but should be held to a higher standard as a member of the bar AND as a public official. That the prosecutor was not able to bring a charge under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act has everything to do with Libby's (and others') acts of obstruction.
You state that the "real issue...is that our country went to war in part because of...faulty information". Is that really true? Clinton had the same range of information, yet chose not to go to war. Bush made a choice to go to war against a nation which had NEVER attacked the US, in violation of international law, and he chose which intelligence sources he wanted to hear and which to ignore. There were many - Hans Blix, Mohamed ElBaradei and Scott Ritter not the least amongst them - who warned that the WMD claims made by the US were false. As Paul Wolfowitz has admitted, WMD were just a convenient excuse for going to war. Although Cheney & Libby were circling the wagons, trying to prevent what was already an ephemeral case for war from further dissipating, it seems to me that the real issue is that the administration violated national security with malice and forethought in order to denigrate a critic, in the process destroying the career of a key public servant. As a result we now lack both Valerie Plame's expertise in counter-proliferation and the intelligence network she managed in Iran, and thus the administration can once again simply fabricate claims about WMD and other munitions without substantive evidence to back up those claims (ElBaradei has said that to date none of the claims made by the US about Iran have proved true).
If there were real justice in the world, Libby would also be held to account for destroying a vital national security asset (at a critical time in our nation's history), and for helping to foment an unprovoked war which even our key partners, the British, recognized as probably illegal under international law and the UN charter. That war has resulted in the destruction of an entire society and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis - none of whom are able to go home and resume their lives as you would like Mr. Libby to do. It should be noted that Libby was the point-man for pushing the "faulty information" in Colin Powell's speech to the UN - all of which has since been proven to be false. But none of that is the issue here...lying to investigators is.
20 years ago we had the Iran/Contra investigation, which resulted in a number of convictions and subsequent pardons. Some who received those pardons - such as Elliott Abrams - are deeply involved in misshaping US foreign policy again today. Others involved in Iran/Contra who resurfaced in recent years are Dick Cheney, David Addington, John Negroponte, Bob Gates, John Poindexter, Otto Reich and Michael Ledeen. Those names characterize the nature of our current administration. For those who don't remember the Iran/Contra hearings, lying to Congress, embezzlement from the US treasury and other official acts of misconduct were the issues then - not the number of people we killed or the terrorism we sponsored in Nicaragua and throughout Central America. Regardless of what one thinks about the underlying policy issues of these scandals, I would argue that such people - those who have no respect for truth or the role of Congress in our government - are unfit to serve in public office. However, the granting of a pardon whitewashes such sins and allows these people to recirculate and continue to contaminate official policy. The mere act of lying to Congress or committing perjury before a grand jury should permanently bar one from any public position or government contracting position. If it does not, what kind of society are we other than a corrupt one? While perjury and obstruction seem like petty issues compared to outing an undercover CIA operative for political reasons, those crimes were directly germane to Libby's official acts in office. Truth and openness should be at the core of our government.
In a subsequent email I had with Wineke I think he understood my basic point about government ethics - which I probably could have made more succinctly by leaving out any lingering outrage about the war - but he still thinks Libby should be shown mercy because he's "an essentially
decent man". I'll reserve judgment on that; the face one shows in court to a jury does not reflect Libby's actions in government, such as with Powell's UN speech, or his close association to Cheney, Wolfowitz and PNAC. Other than that I've never met the man and don't know if he's a "nice guy" or not. Nor should one's affability determine the length of one's sentence.
I think the secondary issue of recirculation of corrupt public officials is maybe even more important. Iran/Contra was arguably much more damaging from a foreign policy, Congressional control, and constitutional standpoint, but it seems that the common underlying rot is in pardoning official crimes, and then allowing those people to hold public office again. What do Kossacks think?