Wednesday, March 06, 2013
Six years ago today, on March 6, 2007, Lewis "Scooter" Libby was convicted of four of five counts relating to the "outing" of CIA operative Valerie Plame. He was convicted of felony counts of perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements to federal investigators in the aftermath of the exposure of Ms. Plame in an article by political columnist Robert Novak. Libby was sentenced to 30 months in prison and a $250,000 fine, but he ended up not serving even a day in jail because President George W. Bush commuted his sentence. He still had to pay the fine and serve probation, and his felony convictions stood. Also, because he was convicted of a felony, he lost his voting rights.
Well, until late last year. A report that came out last last month had his name on a list of convicted felons whose voting rights had been restored by Virginia Governor, Bob McDonnell.
None of this would have probably even been on my radar except that last week I saw the film "Fair Game", about the Plame Affair. I had followed it casually in the news as it was going on, but I really didn't know that much about it until I did some reading about the case and its aftermath after finding the film intriguing. I wanted to know how much of the film was accurate and how much of it was the "Hollywood lite" version. As far as I can tell from the research I've done the film, which stars Naomi Watts as Valerie Plame and Sean Penn as her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, is pretty faithful to the facts of the case.
It all started when Joseph Wilson took exception to part of President George W. Bush's State of the Union address on January 28, 2003, or at least the part of it in which Bush asserted that an agreement had been made between Iraq and the African nation of Niger for Iraq to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger as part of Iraq's bid to acquire nuclear weapons capability. Well, what Bush actually said, and which has come to be known as "the 16 words", was: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." But Joseph Wilson knew exactly what he was talking about.
The reason Wilson knew what Bush was referring to was that he had been asked a year earlier by the CIA to travel to Niger and check out reports that this deal had been made after Vice-President Cheney's office and the Departments of State and Defense had made inquiries to the CIA about such a deal. Wilson went to Niger and investigated, the reported back that as far as he could ascertain, there was no truth to the stories and that no deal had been made. The closest Wilson could find to any dealings between the two countries was a report from the Prime Minister of Niger that a businessman had proposed that he meet with a delegation of Iraqis to discuss widening commercial relations. The Prime Minister however, aware of sanctions against Iraq, did not respond to the request for the meeting.
The 16 words in Bush's speech was part of his efforts to drum up support for his planned war against Iraq, and Wilson took exception to the fact that Bush was, at the very best, vastly exaggerating, and at worst just plain lying, about the state of Iraq's nuclear program in order to get the American people behind him in his drive to war. Eventually, after documents produced that were alleged to document the Iraq-Niger deal, and after those documents were pronounced fakes by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and after the US had gone to war with Iraq, Wilson wrote an op-ed piece, "What I Didn't Find In Africa", which was run in the New York Times on July 6, 2003.
Apparently, the Bush administration didn't like being called out for its exaggerations as it lined up support for the war, and just over a week later, Robert Novak published the information that Valerie Plame was a CIA operative. How he found this out is a long and convoluted story, but eventually the leak was traced to Vice-President Cheney's office. Those implicated in the leak included Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (who eventually admitted that he was the one who actually leaked the information to Novak), Scooter Libby, Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove, and White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. Besides Libby, Armitage was also indicted for his role, but was never brought to trial. Vice-President Cheney himself, of course, claimed absolute immunity for any culpability in the leak.
Most importantly, perhaps, George W. Bush stated before any names emerged as being responsible parties for the leak that if he learned who had leaked the information, he would fire them. Ultimately, of course, no one was fired for their involvement in the affair, and as we have seen, while Mr. Bush didn't pardon Libby he did commute his sentence before Libby had served any time. This was very unusual in and of itself, as sentences are almost never commuted until after much of the sentences had been served. As only one example, President Jimmy Carter did not commute Patty Hearst's sentence for her conviction for helping the her Symbionese Liberation Army captors in a bank robbery until she had served nearly two years of a seven-year sentence (which itself had been reduced from an original 35 years.
The consensus is that Ms. Plame's status as a CIA operative was leaked and made public as a way of getting back at her husband for his article contradicting the administration. This despite the fact that such a disclosure was illegal and could have put lives at risk. There are differences of opinion about whether there were any lives put at risk or CIA operations that were damaged by the disclosure of Ms. Plame's employment with the CIA, with claims that the damage was negligible and other claims that the damage was significant and did put people's lives in danger. It is difficult to tell what the truth is because of the culture of secrecy that surrounds CIA operations.
I think the fact that it was even a possibility that operations and, most of all, lives could be put at risk, should have stopped the leak from ever happening, especially since the leak was clearly made as political payback, as an effort to embarrass Ambassador Wilson and to hurt his credibility. Even if no other lives were put at risk, Plame and Wilson and their family did receive a number of threats over the affair. Those who chose to leak the information had to know this would happen, and it should have stopped them from doing what they did. That it did not stop them speaks to the ethics, or rather lack of it, of those involved.
This sort of thing should not be the American way of doing business. And honestly, it kind of pisses me off that Scooter got his voting rights back, and that he is the only one who got into any real trouble over the whole thing, even if he wasn't the one who did the actual leaking.
And why did Richard Armitage, the actual source of the the leak to Novak, never have to answer for that?