Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Don't want to beat a dead horse, but these are two very good articles on the Libby verdict

The Libby Cover-up Completed

By Robert Parry

President George W. Bush’s decision to spare former White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby from jail marks the final act of a crime and cover-up that began four years ago when Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other top officials launched a campaign to discredit a critic of the Iraq War.

That campaign started with the leaking of sensitive classified information, the identity of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame, destroying her career and jeopardizing the lives of her agents in other countries. That was followed by White House lies being told to both investigators and the public in order to shield the President from dangerous political fallout.

By commuting Libby’s 30-month jail sentence on July 2 – and dangling the possibility of a full pardon later – Bush has moved to ensure that Cheney’s former chief of staff keeps his mouth shut and that the full story is never told.

The Plame/Libby cover-up also demonstrates the modern techniques available at least to a Republican president who wants to minimize damage from embarrassing or incriminating information. Bush was able to tap into the ideologically committed right-wing news media to confuse the issue and create political space for his final decision.

Ever since July 2003 – when Plame’s husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, revealed that he had conducted a fact-finding trip for the CIA which helped debunk allegations that Iraq had been seeking uranium from Africa – the right-wing media has kept up a steady assault on Wilson.

Wilson received this treatment because his findings contradicted Bush’s claim in his 2003 State of the Union Address that Iraq’s supposed search for uranium suggested that Saddam Hussein was trying to build a nuclear bomb, a key argument for invading Iraq.

Wilson’s public statements – in a New York Times op-ed and later on TV news shows – represented the first challenge to Bush’s case for war from a government insider. At the time, with Bush near the peak of his popularity, Wilson looked like easy prey.

So, instead of showing gratitude to an American citizen who undertook a difficult assignment at no pay, the Bush administration – aided by congressional Republicans, the right-wing media and some pro-war mainstream pundits – sought to tear down Wilson’s reputation and mislead the public on the facts of the case.

Talking Points

The original White House talking points – given to about a half dozen journalists – included that Wilson’s wife, Plame, worked in the CIA office that sent Wilson to Africa, thus suggesting that the trip was a case of nepotism.

One White House official later told a Washington Post reporter that the administration had informed at least six reporters about Plame “purely and simply out of revenge” against Wilson.

Libby was one of the leakers, briefing two journalists – Judith Miller of the New York Times and Matthew Cooper of Time – but neither ran with Plame’s identity. Libby also brought White House press secretary Ari Fleischer in on the leak operation.

Two other leakers, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and his friend, White House political adviser Karl Rove, finally managed to get right-wing columnist Robert Novak to run a story about Plame’s identity.

Novak’s column destroyed Plame’s career and put at risk the lives of her overseas contacts who had helped the United States keep on an eye on proliferation of dangerous weapons in the Middle East.

But the Plame leak backfired on the White House when the CIA sought a criminal investigation into the illegal disclosure of a covert officer’s identity.

In September and October 2003, the Bush administration’s next line of defense was simply to lie. For his part, Bush pretended that he knew nothing about the anti-Wilson leaks, even though he had authorized release of some intelligence information meant to bolster the White House position on the uranium issue and undercut Wilson.

Bush disingenuously urged his subordinates to say what they knew. “I want to know the truth,” Bush said on Sept. 30, 2003. “If anybody has got any information inside our administration or outside our administration, it would be helpful if they came forward with the information so we can find out whether or not these allegations are true.”

However, since the various conspirators knew that Bush already was in the know, they would have read his comments as a signal to lie, which is what they did. Rove issued a false statement through the White House press office denying any involvement.

That prompted Libby to seek help from Cheney. As Libby’s lawyer Theodore Wells disclosed at his client’s trial, Libby’s complaint was that “they’re trying to set me up; they want me to be the sacrificial lamb.”

In response to Libby’s complaint, Cheney penned a message to the press secretary demanding equal treatment for Libby. “Not going to protect one staffer + sacrifice the guy the Pres that was asked to stick his head in the meat grinder because of incompetence of others,” Cheney wrote to press secretary Scott McClellan.

In the note, Cheney initially ascribed Libby’s sacrifice to Bush but apparently thought better of it, crossing out “the Pres” and putting the clause in a passive tense. Complying with Cheney’s wishes on Oct. 4, 2003, McClellan added Libby to the list of officials who have “assured me that they were not involved in this.”

Twin Conspiracies

So, the evidence is that not only was there a high-level administration conspiracy to leak Plame’s identity but there was an equally high-level conspiracy to cover up the truth.

Libby got nailed because he failed to shift away from the cover stories when the investigation grew serious following the appointment of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald as a special prosecutor in December 2003.

But the cover-up never ended. Republican senators and the Republican National Committee issued harsh attacks on Wilson, making him out to be a liar when the reality was that his fact-finding trip had helped the U.S. intelligence community correctly raise pre-war doubts about Iraq’s supposed pursuit of uranium for nuclear weapons.

As Libby faced trial in early 2007, other right-wingers, such as attorney Victoria Toensing, released other red herrings to confuse the public. Toensing, for instance, began insisting that Plame was not a “covert” officer because she was “stationed” at CIA headquarters in Langley, Viriginia.

Toensing’s argument was based on her assertion that a 25-year-old law protecting the identities of U.S. intelligence officers from exposure required that the person “reside” or be “stationed” overseas in the previous five years.

However, Toensing misstated the law, which actually refers to intelligence officers having “served” abroad in the previous five years, which Plame later testified that she had done by traveling on overseas assignments for the CIA.

In other words, the law would protect the identity of a CIA officer based at Langley who went on missions overseas or, say, a special operations officer who was stationed at Ft. Bragg and resided in Fayetteville, N.C., but who still “served” on dangerous missions overseas.

But many in the right-wing news media and even at prestige newspapers like the Washington Post have adopted Toensing’s word games as reality. It’s now an article of faith in some political circles that Plame was not a “covert” officer and that therefore there was “no underlying crime.”

After Libby was found guilty for perjury and obstruction of justice and received a 30-month jail sentence, the cover-up entered a new phase with a new ferocity. His neoconservative allies, the right-wing press and some mainstream pundits joined in a clamor for his pardon.

This phase of the cover-up created political space for Bush to commute Libby’s sentence and to hold open the possibility of a full pardon.

So, rather than Libby cooperating with prosecutor Fitzgerald and laying out the full story, Cheney’s former chief of staff has a very strong incentive to stay mum. Not only won't he go to jail, but he has reason to hope that Bush will eventually wipe out the felony convictions with a full pardon.

Barring some unforeseen development, the Libby cover-up appears to have succeeded.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at It's also available at, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.

Original article posted here.

The freeing of Lewis Libby: Government criminality and the class nature of American “justice”

By Bill Van Auken

The decision of the Bush White House to commute the jail sentence of Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby is a telling demonstration of both the criminal character of the US government and the inequality that pervades American society.

Libby was sentenced to 30 months in prison on felony counts of perjury and obstruction of justice for lying to FBI agents and a federal grand jury in an attempt to derail their investigation into the leaking of the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Now he will go scot-free, his sentence rescinded before he served a single day in jail.

While the commutation left in place the conviction, as well as a $250,000 fine and two years of probation, Bush refused on Tuesday to rule out granting Libby of a full pardon before he leaves the White House. “I rule nothing in or nothing out,” Bush said when asked about a potential pardon.

So much for Bush’s solemn declaration the previous day that he “respected” the jury’s verdict and his talk of the serious nature of the crimes of perjury and obstruction of justice.

As for the fine, there is no doubt that it will be more than repaid by Libby’s wealthy backers, who have already raised $5 million for his defense fund and mobilized a small army of ex-officials, lawyers, wealthy developers and the leading figures of the Republican right on his behalf.

The reason Libby’s prosecution has turned into a cause célèbre for this socio-political layer is that the lies he told federal investigators were part of a conspiracy to cover up far bigger lies that were used to drag the American people into a criminal war launched to further the profit interests of the corporate elite.

Plame’s identity was leaked to the right-wing columnist Robert Novak and other members of the media in an attempt punish and intimidate her husband, Joseph Wilson, the former ambassador who exposed some of the phony evidence about weapons of mass destruction that was used to justify the Iraq war.

The investigation that culminated in Libby’s conviction was launched by the Justice Department, which, at the urging of the CIA, appointed Patrick Fitzgerald, the US attorney in Chicago, as a special counsel. The leaking of Plame’s identity angered CIA officials, who said it was a potential violation of a 1982 law making it a felony to reveal the name of a covert agent.

It was clear from the outset that the drive to silence Wilson came from Cheney and the White House itself. In the opening stages of the trial, Libby’s lawyer portrayed his client as a “fall guy” for higher-ups, a characterization the jury apparently found apt. It was revealed after the trial that while convicting Libby, jurors openly questioned why others—including key Bush aide Karl Rove—were not also on trial.

Then, in an unanticipated turn of events, the defense abruptly rested its case without calling Cheney, Rove or Libby himself to the witness stand. It was clear that Libby and his lawyers had decided virtually to concede guilt rather than pursue the line of defense they had laid out at the trial’s opening.

It was more than an educated guess, widely discussed in the media at the time, that Libby had been given assurances that Bush would intervene to prevent him spending any time in prison. The decision to issue a presidential order wiping out Libby’s jail term was the legal equivalent of hush money, designed to buy Libby’s silence on the crimes of the Bush White House and Cheney’s office, in which Libby himself played a central role.

Bush’s decision to commute the sentence was portrayed by the White House as an act of mercy, aimed at ameliorating an “excessive” penalty while upholding the sanctity of the jury’s verdict. It was nothing of the kind. Like everything else done by this administration, it was an act of lawlessness aimed at covering up crimes and defending unfettered executive power.

As the Washington Post pointed out Tuesday, the sentence was anything but excessive. “Three of every four people convicted of obstruction of justice have been sent to prison over the past two years, a total of 283 people, according to federal judiciary data,” the Post reported. “The average term was more than five years. The largest group of defendants were sentenced to between 13 and 31 months in prison, exactly where Libby would have fallen on the charts.”

The decision to grant clemency—taken without any consultation with either Fitzgerald or the Justice Department’s pardon attorney—was aimed at assuring maximum secrecy, since such decisions are subject to no review and even documents relating to them are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.

The commutation of Libby’s sentence provides one more confirmation that this government considers itself entirely above the law and operates more along the lines of a crime family than a democratic and constitutional administration.

The response to the White House’s freeing of Libby by both the media and the ostensible political opposition in the Democratic Party has been notably muted.

The various Democratic presidential candidates issued sound bytes for the occasion. Hillary Clinton said that the commutation showed that in the Bush administration “cronyism and ideology trump competence and justice,” while Barack Obama said it “cements the legacy of an administration characterized by a politics of cynicism and division.” The issue has presented some political problems for the latter candidate, as the Obama campaign’s general counsel Robert Bauer came out in Libby’s defense, drafting an article entitled, “Progressive Case for a Libby Pardon.”

In contrast to the response of the politicians, Joseph Wilson delivered a more forthright and angry condemnation of Bush’s actions, calling them representative of a government that is “corrupt from top to bottom.”

“The fact that the president short-circuited our system of justice by giving Scooter Libby a get-out-of-jail-free card, thereby eliminating any incentive that he would tell the truth to the prosecutor, guarantees that there is a cloud of suspicion put over the office of the president and makes him potentially a suspect in an ongoing obstruction of justice case,” declared Wilson, adding, “This was a coverup.”

As for the media, the most strident note was sounded by the Wall Street Journal, which published an editorial describing Libby’s predicament as a “personal tragedy” and declaring Bush’s failure to issue an outright pardon “a dark moment in this administration’s history.”

The Washington Post, which had been highly critical of the prosecution of Libby, agreed with a commutation of Libby’s sentence, but said Bush had gone a bit far in relieving the former aide of all jail time. The Post echoed the argument of the Republican right, comparing Libby’s case to that of President Bill Clinton, “who lied under oath but was not removed from office or put in jail.”

That Clinton was essentially entrapped into lying about an entirely personal matter which had no intrinsic significance for anyone outside of himself and his family, while Libby’s lies were part of a political conspiracy to carry out an illegal war of aggression that has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and killed or maimed tens of thousands of US troops, was apparently lost on the newspaper’s editors.

The New York Times went so far as to suggest that the commutation was aimed at buying Libby’s silence. “Presidents have the power to grant clemency and pardons,” the Times noted. “But in this case, Mr. Bush did not sound like a leader making tough decisions about justice. He sounded like a man worried about what a former loyalist might say when actually staring into a prison cell.” Yet, having suggested that Bush himself is guilty of obstruction of justice, the newspaper did not even broach the question of Bush or anyone else being held accountable.

There can be little doubt that Bush took into account this tepid response from the media and the Democrats—compared with the fulminations of the Republican right—in determining that, a day after commuting Libby’s sentence, he could get away with suggesting that he may yet grant him a blanket pardon.

What is to account for the lack of genuine outrage within what once passed for the liberal establishment centered in the Democratic Party and sections of the press? It is all the more striking given the overwhelming popular hostility to Bush’s commutation, with polls showing at least 70 percent disapproval.

In the final analysis, Libby’s real crime is not that he lied about matters related to the exposure of a single CIA operative, though leading Democrats have welcomed this issue as a chance to portray Republicans as “traitors” and enemies of national security. Rather, the crime Libby, Cheney and the rest committed and then sought to defend in the Plame-Wilson matter was the promotion of an illegal war based upon lies.

Behind the muted response is undoubtedly an element of “there but for the grace of God go I” from co-participants in the corrupt and criminal activities of the US government. They, after all, work in the same protected and privileged bubble as Libby and his associates.

While a few Democratic members of the House have suggested hearings on the commutation, even if they are held they will inevitably become an exercise in damage control, under conditions in which the entire political establishment is up to its necks in deceit and corruption.

There is an additional social and political dynamic at work here. Within the entire political and media establishment there is a firm conviction that the savage “criminal justice” system in the US is not meant for possessors of wealth and purveyors of power such as Libby. Prisons and harsh sentences are in place to suppress and control the masses of poor and working people.

The number of prisoners in America has reached a record 2,245,000, the largest for any nation on earth and nearly 40 percent higher than its closest competitor, China. Last year, the US prison system recorded the biggest increase in the number of inmates since 2000, the Justice Department reported last week. The rise was attributed largely to mandatory sentencing laws, which the administration has sought to toughen still further, while overriding just such a statute in the Libby case.

In a statement defending his decision to commute Libby’s sentence, Bush lamented the fact that the vice presidential aide’s “wife and young children have also suffered immensely” and that “the consequences of his felony conviction on his former life... will be long-lasting.”

No such consideration is given to the millions who are forced into American jails—many on minor offenses, some who are mentally incompetent to stand trial, others who are juveniles but tried as adults. Without the money and power of a Libby, they are caught up in a merciless legal system that continues to send people to their deaths.

In his previous political capacity as governor of Texas, Bush showed none of those on the state’s death row the compassion reserved for Cheney’s underling. He sent to their deaths 150 men and two women—executing the first female in Texas in 100 years, Karla Faye Tucker, and publicly mocking her plea that he spare her life.

This ruthless legal system is a reflection of the brutality visited upon working people in general. Millions are deprived of jobs and pensions, have their wages cut or lose their homes through foreclosures, without an ounce of compassion from the government or the corporate elite that it represents.

The crime of which Libby is guilty—as are Bush, Cheney and others in the military and political establishment—is the same one which formed the principal charge against the Nazi defendants at Nuremberg 60 years ago: conspiracy to wage a war of aggression.

That Libby cannot be punished, even for the tangential offenses of obstructing justice and lying under oath, demonstrates that the entire political establishment, including the Democrats and the media, is implicated in the same underlying crime.

Original article posted here.

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