People who occupy these types of positions, where they have the welfare and security of nation in their hands, have a special obligation to not do anything that might create a problem.
-U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton in sentencing I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, according to a Yahoo!/AP article
I have one question for President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney: How do you sleep at night?
Okay, I just realized that the question needs context, since there are probably tens or hundreds of things they've done that would keep a person with any kind of moral center and respect for the democratic process tossing and turning in bed until the alarm goes off. This question has to do with today's sentencing of the Vice President's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, to two-and-a-half years in prison and a $250,000 fine for his role in the Valerie Plame scandal.
For those of you who are aware of the name but not the details, the Plame Affair Wikipedia entry provides a decent overview of the facts. But, at heart, this case is pretty simple: A man named Joseph Wilson, a former diplomat who served in Iraq and Africa, revealed in a New York Times op-ed piece that contrary to a charge aired in the State of the Union address, Iraq did not seek to buy uranium from Niger, and the Bush administration had exaggerated the threat to justify the war in Iraq. Shortly thereafter, an article by conservative columnist Robert Novak revealed that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was an undercover operative for the CIA.
It is widely believed that the outing of Plame was the Bush administration's retaliation for Wilson's article. Bush, laughably, said in a New York Times article four days after Novak's column ran that, "If someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration. I don't know all the facts; I want to know all the facts." The quote is laughable on many counts, but two jump to mind.
First of all, Bush defended Libby at every stage of the investigation, even after his conviction, saying in a statement released by the White House that he was "very disappointed with the verdict." Second, is there any person on earth that honestly believes that Scooter Libby acted on his own in this case? (To be clear, Libby was convicted of lying and obstructing justice in the investigation, not actually leaking the name.) It's not like the Bush administration does not routinely use the power of the government to accomplish political goals (just ask the eight fired U.S. Attorneys). Even the most partisan Republican has to admit that it looks awfully unlikely that Cheney had no idea what was going on.
But what cannot be stated often enough is that a Presidential administration revealed the name of an active, undercover CIA agent to settle a political score. The revelation ended Plame's elaborately set up false identity (fake company, job, etc.) and, presumably, compromised investigations she was working on. Revealing the identity of agents can put other agents' lives at risk. Sure, the fired U.S. Attorneys lost their jobs. Thanks to the leak, undercover agents could lose their lives (and civilians, if an attack is not foiled because of the outing).
The Republicans constantly tell us that they are the ones to protect us, that left in the hands of Democrats, we are at greater risk. They don't just imply it, they tell us explicitly. Presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani was quoted in the New York Times as saying that the U.S. would suffer "more losses" if a Democrat was elected president, and that Democrats “do not understand the full nature and scope of the terrorist war against us.” But, it was not a Democratic administration that ignored warnings in 2001 that Al Qaeda was planning to fly planes into buildings. It was not a Democratic president that let the terrorists run wild in Afghanistan and elsewhere while he pursued a doomed (and terrorist unrelated) war in Iraq. And, it was not a Democratic administration that leaked the name of an active CIA agent.
Libby is taking the fall for actions committed by the administration. Was leaking Plame's name an idea that came from his immediate boss, Cheney? From Karl Rove? We may never know for sure. But we can be quite sure that the decision came from higher than Scooter Libby.
So, while Scooter Libby empties out his bank account (assuming one of the many defense funds set up by conservatives for him does not pay the fine for him) and prepares to spend some time at a federal country club prison (you have to figure that even in a minimum-security lock-up, it can't be helpful to be known as "Scooter"), Bush and Cheney go about their business, trying to destroy everything that was ever great about this country. Of course, Libby may not ever serve a day if Bush pardons him.
And I'll ask the question again: How can Bush lie in bed next to Laura, see Scooter Libby walking into the courthouse on his plasma-screen television (he hit CNN by accident while trying to get the baseball scores), turn off the set, kiss Laura on the cheek, snuggle under his 500-thread-count sheets, and start having pleasant dreams about cowboy hats, oil and Jesus, without feeling guilty? How can Cheney crawl into his coffin, pull his Haliburton blanket over his head, and activate his heart resuscitation machine before drifting off to thoughts of punching liberals in their faces, without wondering if it is okay to stab a CIA agent in the back? Have they not a drop of morality? Does it bother them at all that a flunky is taking the fall for them? And, as a country, how can we sleep, knowing that these are the men running our nation?
Are they content because they know a pardon is coming? Even if that's true, Libby's life has been damaged, if not ruined.
The judge's quote that started off this article was directed at Libby, but it is equally applicable to Bush, Cheney and anyone else who had a hand in outing Valerie Plame. And, since Bush holds the power, it seems unlikely that anyone (except for Libby) will have to pay the price. But, of course, there is one group of people that does have the power to change things: The American electorate.
I hope that in November of 2008, when Americans cast their votes, they remember what Bush and his administration have done. If they do, there may finally be some justice meted out to those responsible for the Plame leak. While they won't be personally held accountable, their policies and beliefs will be. While that leaves a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth, it's fine, because the greater good of the country is more important than the fate of a few rich guys. If only the Bush administration believed in that idea.
[NOTE: After I published this article, a friend of mine sent me a link to a pile of letters sent to the court on Scooter Libby's behalf by people who have held high-ranking government positions (e.g. Donald Rumsfeld and Henry Kissinger). It's fascinating, but be advised: Wear high boots, because the level of cow dung in these pleas is exceedingly high.]