The conviction of Scooter Libby on four counts of perjury and obstruction of justice is first of all a human tragedy.
A man who served his country at the highest level, who sat in every morning at the senior staff meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, has been dishonored and disgraced, and will be disbarred. Unless his conviction is overturned, or he is pardoned, Libby will go to prison. His life will end with an obituary that declares in its headline and lead paragraph that he was a convicted Dick Cheney aide.
Yet, this was a narrow case. Libby's convictions call to mind Martha Stewart's, who went to prison for lying to investigators about a crime she did not commit. Libby has been convicted of lying about the outing of a CIA classified officer, a crime for which no one has been indicted.
Valerie Plame, the wife of Ambassador Joe Wilson, who was outed as a CIA "operative," was no longer covert and had not been so for half a decade when her name was pushed out of the White House to the press. Joe Wilson, her husband, target of the White House vendetta, yet contends that not only was her career destroyed, a crime was committed -- and that is why the CIA demanded an investigation.
Yet it was an arrogant and stupid thing Libby did. He lied to the FBI, to Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, to the grand jury. He fabricated a story about where he learned about Wilson's wife, when, as sworn testimony proved, he learned it from Vice President Cheney and was himself moving it to the press.
However, this was about a larger issue than the narrow question of whether Libby lied about leaking the role of Valerie Plame in having her husband sent to Niger to investigate a report that Iraq had been seeking "yellowcake," a critical component in a uranium enrichment program.
That larger issue is this: Were we misled, were we deceived by our government, as the White House made the case for invading and occupying Iraq? Did neoconservatives at the Pentagon cherry-pick the intelligence, stovepipe it to the vice president's office and Libby, and then feed it to sympathizers and collaborators in the media, to stampede our country into a war against a nation that, no matter how odious its regime, did not threaten us, did not attack us and did not want war with us?
In short, were we lied into a war in Mesopotamia that is breaking our Army, has crippled an administration, and has bled and divided our country as it has not been since the days of Vietnam?
And why has the Democratic Congress, on taking power in January, not begun a broad investigation into how we got into this war?
This is the dog that didn't bark. And the reason the dog is silent suggests itself. The Congress, in voting President Bush the authority to take us to war against Iraq at a time and place of his own choosing, failed to do its duty by the Constitution. In October 2002, to get the issue off the table for the election and give themselves political cover against the Rovian charge they were tying the hands of the commander in chief in the War on Terror, a Democratic Senate -- Clinton, Kerry, Edwards, Daschle, Biden, Reid all assenting -- voted Bush the blank check for war that he cashed in five months later.
The dilemma a Democratic Congress faces in any investigation into whether we were lied into war is that Congress would be investigating why a Democratic Senate failed its constitutional duty to determine the necessity for war.
And, lest we forget, the media, too, played a supporting role in pushing this nation into an unnecessary war. Columnists and commentators assured us there was a nexus between Saddam, al-Qaida and 9-11, a "Prague connection" between Muhammad Atta and Iraqi intelligence. We were told Saddam had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction and was working on nuclear weapons, that enrichment of uranium was being done secretly around the country, that if we did not act now, we faced a nuclear-armed Iraq that would surely transfer atomic weapons to al-Qaida terrorists. Said Condi Rice, our proof of WMD might well come in the form of a mushroom cloud above an American city.
Scooter Libby will not lack for legal defense funds as he pursues his appeal, and there will be demands for his pardon before Bush goes home. For Scooter is a martyr of the War Party. Scooter did what he had to do to get us into this war. Then he did what he felt he had to do to discredit Joe Wilson, because Wilson was out to discredit the White House case for war. And in the end, we are unlikely to know the truth of why it was we went to war. For that record is sealed in minds and souls.
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