Two Trials

by , April 25, 2006

What about this and this is the same? What is different?

These sorts of questions sound like some you might encounter on one of those annoying tests they made you take in school, which are supposed to gauge intelligence but probably wind up measuring only one’s aptitude for test-taking. The exercise, at any rate, may prove valuable in helping us understand what the War Party is up to these days.

In the beginning of April, court documents [.pdf] filed by Scooter-gate prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald detailed that I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, with “approval from the president through the vice president,” had selectively leaked portions of a classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) about Saddam Hussein’s alleged efforts to procure nuclear weapons. Scooter conveniently left out those sections of the NIE that undercut the administration’s case for war with Iraq, but that is hardly the most shocking aspect of this revelation. After all, the neocon coven nested in the Office of the Vice President (OVP) and the civilian hierarchy of the Pentagon considers lying a high art, and certainly more than a few of their efforts rate as masterpieces of the genre.

No, what grates against both reason and common sense is that the White House did not deny it. The effect of this was to provoke a storm on Capitol Hill, and a round of rejoicing over at the Libby Defense Trust, the ad hoc group set up to defend the War Party’s indicted martyr. After railing against leaks and flatly declaring the president would fire leakers, one and all, a soon-to-be-replaced Scott McClellan haplessly declared:

“Declassifying information and providing it to the public when it is in the public interest is one thing. But leaking classified information that could compromise our national security is something that is very serious, and there’s a distinction.”

To prosecutor Fitzgerald, and for those of us who don’t live in the Bizarro World alternate universe inhabited by this administration, this is a distinction without a difference.

These new disclosures don’t directly tie either Libby or the White House to the “outing” of CIA agent Valerie Plame. However, they clearly outline a conspiracy within the administration to target and discredit both Plame and her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, who, just days before, had published an op-ed piece in the New York Times debunking official claims that Saddam – in actively pursuing efforts to build nukes – had tried to purchase uranium in the African nation of Niger. This assertion was made by Bush in his State of the Union speech and further buttressed by other officials and their amen corner in the “mainstream” media.

The administration’s campaign to discredit Wilson, headquartered in the OVP, was damage control in the face of the rapid unraveling of our “intelligence” about Iraq’s allegedly advanced nuclear weapons program – a lie based, in large part, on forged documents of mysterious provenance. Yet information derived from this crude hoax somehow made it into the NIE, a document of immense importance in formulating and implementing U.S. policy. In carrying out the wishes of the president and vice president by feeding this fable to their favorite media mouthpieces – incidentally, is anyone surprised that Judith Miller received the biggest and juiciest worm? – Scooter was just doing his job.

In a panic to cover up the tracks of their lies, the War Party frantically and recklessly lashed out at ambassador Wilson, whose trenchant critique of administration claims about an alleged Iraq-Niger nuclear connection threatened to expose them as frauds – and, maybe, much worse. Their plan hinged on characterizing Wilson as a beneficiary of nepotism, as well as a partisan, whose trip to Niger had been a “junket” engineered by his wife. The anti-Wilson campaign culminated in Bob Novak’s reporting the CIA affiliation of Plame, whose official “cover,” Brewster Jennings and Associates, was a key component of the Agency’s operations in the vital realm of anti-proliferation. If that is in the public interest, then I’ll eat my hat.

The hardcore neocons, however, would also argue with McClellan’s statement, albeit from a very different perspective: in their Bizarro World alternate reality, it is entirely possible that compromising our national security is in the public interest.

Think of it this way: if Scooter is convicted, even as key fabrications of Iraq war propaganda come apart at the seams, then the War Party will be discredited – and we might even recover our senses long enough to get the heck out of Iraq. Then legions of antiwar leftists and conservative realists, who want to sell out human civilization to the Islamo-fascists and are secretly in league with America’s enemies, would overrun Washington, until this point secured by the War Party – and then what? >From the neocon point of view, “outing” Plame was a patriotic act, indeed, the only course that could have possibly served the public interest. The CIA, in their view, wasn’t just against the war and the methods employed by the administration to justify it, they were on the other side. Therefore, it was Scooter’s patriotic duty to expose Plame. Case closed.

A similar defense strategy is being employed by the two defendants in the AIPAC spy case, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, who stand accused [.pdf] of engaging in acts of espionage when they passed on vital secrets to Israeli embassy officials. Rosen and Weissman recruited Pentagon Iran specialist Larry Franklin and used him as a conduit to top secret intelligence, which was then passed on via AIPAC to the Israelis. Lawyers for Rosen and Weissman are now pulling the Scooter defense, claiming that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice leaked similarly classified information to the defendants. In a stunning development, the judge in the case, one T.S. Ellis, has granted the defense request to subpoena Rice. What do they hope to gain by this audacious act? Nothing less than exoneration. As Rosen’s lawyer put it:

”On day one, Secretary of State Rice tells him certain info and on day two one of the conspirators tells him the same thing or something less volatile.”

Also subpoenaed: David Satterfield, deputy chief of the U.S. mission to Iraq; William Burns, U.S. ambassador to Russia and retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni. Zinni’s name is a marker, a key indication of the defense strategy of claiming that everybody in Washington does it – i.e., exchanges information, classified or not – even Zinni, voluble war critic and outspoken opponent of the neoconservatives. They get to make their point and slime one of their most effective critics, all in one blow. As President Bush’s former Middle East envoy, Zinni’s dealings with AIPAC were no doubt frequent: ample opportunity there to twist innocent dialogue into something else entirely.

And this hardly exhausts the defense’s subpoena wish list, which also includes National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley; Elliot Abrams, deputy national security adviser; Richard L. Armitage, former deputy secretary of state; and Kenneth Pollack, a key Clinton foreign policy adviser and author of The Threatening Storm, a book that did much to bring on board liberals and hawkish lefties in supporting the invasion of Iraq. No word, yet, on these, but it is telling that the judge denied requests for testimony from the three Israeli “diplomats” who were the ultimate recipients of stolen U.S. secrets. Ditzy Judge Ellis is seriously considering dismissing the entire case on the grounds that, in spying for Israel and gathering sensitive intelligence to feed to their handlers, Rosen and Weissman were really just engaging in legitimate lobbying activities and exercising their right of free speech.

The sheer nerve of this defense argument may be somewhat appalling, but you have to give them credit for originality. If only Jonathan Pollard‘s lawyers had thought of that!

Bringing in the Israelis might remind everyone that, as much as Israel’s amen corner avers this is not really about espionage, what is being tried here is a spy case. We’re supposed to forget that the defendants are being prosecuted under the terms of the Espionage Act – that’s just a legal technicality. And if you doubt that out loud, you’re an anti-Semite.

The defense strategy, in the AIPAC case as well as the Scooter Libby perjury prosecution, is to threaten to bring down the house, what I have called on a previous occasion the “Samson” defense:

“Like Larry Franklin, the convicted spy who pleaded guilty in the AIPAC espionage case, Libby faces a choice: he can save himself and turn state’s evidence, or he can pursue a delaying action in hopes that the trial will drag on long enough so that a presidential pardon will spare him so much as a single day of jail time. He appears to be pursuing the latter course at the moment, but the slightest indication that the president might hesitate in absolving Libby will have the defense considering other alternatives.”

Franklin chose to cooperate, and the government is going after Rosen and Weissman hammer and tongs, while their lawyers and apologists in the media – like Libby’s – put up a spirited defense. Libby, too, ratted on his superiors – but that’s where the parallels end. The response from Rice’s spokesman – a complete denial and an indication that she would refuse to appear in court – is the polar opposite of the White House reaction to Scooter’s grand jury testimony: instead of stonewalling, they readily admitted complicity, absolved Scooter, and took the heat.

While the AIPAC case revolves around a future warintelligence about Iran – and the Libby case is focused on intelligence leading up to our invasion of Iraq, they are both legal fronts in the same fight. If we look at these two cases as the efforts of the body politic to throw off the influence of an alien element – a viral intrusion that so disordered the policymaking apparatus that it became unhinged enough to invade Iraq and contemplate striking Iran – then we have some idea of the importance of the outcomes.

Before we adopted a foreign policy predicated on an American invasion of the Middle East, the U.S. government itself had to be invaded by a cabal known as the neoconservatives, who penetrated the policymaking process at practically every level – from the Office of the Vice President (Scooter) to an analyst’s desk at the Pentagon (Franklin). The key government personnel who constituted that invasion force, and the interests they served, are now being exposed to public view in a court of law – and their last hope, as they’re backed into a corner, is to implicate everyone, to claim that “everybody does it” and that if Rosen and Weissman and Libby are to be prosecuted, then what about the secretary of state, the vice president, and POTUS himself? After all, they authorized it, they were complicit – treason was the policy.

I am hard-pressed to disagree with that conclusion, although I can think of no better outcome of these cases than to see the treasonous trio of Libby-Rosen-Weissman do hard time. For years, we have had a foreign policy that has nothing to do with America’s legitimate national interests – for reasons readily discernible here – and, knowing this, one can hardly wonder that, in the end, it came down to “outing” a CIA agent, stealing vital defense information, and endangering our national security.

The War Party will stop at nothing to absolve themselves of all blame for the consequences of their disastrous policies, using the opportunity to launch an unprecedented assault on their perceived enemies, including even Secretary Rice (soft on Iran) as well as Gen. Zinni (previously denounced as an “anti-Semite” by the Amen Corner). That Rice is resisting them, while the White House capitulates to their every demand, confirms the old saw about the rot starting at the top. That these two cases are even being brought to court, however, shows the putrefaction process is far from complete, and that there is hope for the patient, in the long run. Our republic will survive all this, or at least I like to believe that is so: the immune system of our constitutional order, temporarily downed by the sheer shock of 9/11, is making a comeback. All we can do now is watch the progress of these two cases, get out the popcorn – and keep our fingers crossed.

Read more by Justin Raimondo