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Thursday, July 5, 2007 Previous | Next

The High Cost of Libby’s Silence

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“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” says the preamble to the Declaration of Independence. Unless, of course, you are a friend of the president. By commuting “Scooter” Libby’s sentence, President Bush is also protecting himself and Vice President Dick Cheney.

I asked former Ambassador Joe Wilson what he thought about the commutation. It was his 2003 opinion piece that refuted Bush’s claim that Iraq had sought uranium from Africa. In retaliation, the White House leaked the name of his wife, Valerie Plame, and her CIA identity. Wilson said, “It casts a cloud of suspicion over the president and begs the question whether the president is participating in an ongoing obstruction of justice and cover-up of criminal activity within the White House.” I asked him how: “By ensuring that Libby will have no incentive to talk with the special prosecutor.”

Prisoners often cooperate with government prosecutors in exchange for leniency. With the prison sentence gone, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald loses his leverage over Libby. While Bush and his subordinates stress that Libby still faces a $250,000 fine, the Libby Legal Defense Trust was set up to help him out.

Among the listed trustees are former senator, TV actor and likely Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson, and former CIA director and Iraq war booster James Woolsey. Woolsey’s firm lobbied for the Iraqi National Congress, Ahmed Chalabi’s CIA-funded group that provided faulty intelligence in the lead-up to the war. Woolsey was also a member of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq and involved with the Project for the New American Century, two influential groups that helped provide intellectual cover and political muscle for the invasion of Iraq. Given the power and wealth represented on his fundraising team, Libby will do just fine with his fine.

Blogger Marcy Wheeler, who followed the Libby trial closely, told me: “In some ways, commutation is worse [for the cause of justice] than a pardon. With a commutation, Scooter Libby retains his Fifth Amendment rights.” If Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., for example, were to call a hearing, Libby could still plead the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination, remaining silent. Had he been pardoned and been completely cleared of any wrongdoing, then he would have a harder time refusing to answer questions. Libby’s continued silence protects Bush and Cheney.

The commutation also allows the Bush administration to remain silent. As Bush said, “I have said throughout this process that it would not be appropriate to comment or intervene in this case until Mr. Libby’s appeals have been exhausted.”

So the commutation ensures that Libby will not cooperate with Fitzgerald, and will not cooperate with Congress. Why does this matter? Because this case is not about obstruction of justice, it is not about perjury. Ultimately, this case is about war.

The Bush administration’s case for war depended on false claims about weapons of mass destruction. President George H.W. Bush hailed Wilson as “a true American hero” for his role as acting U.S. ambassador to Iraq when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990. But when Wilson publicly debunked the George W. Bush administration’s claim about African uranium, he was attacked, his wife was outed, her career ruined. Her job: an undercover CIA operative investigating weapons of mass destruction. This week, the United Nations formally closed down its weapons search program in Iraq, the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission. So much for WMD.

Thompson released a statement after the commutation, saying, “This will allow a good American, who has done a lot for his country, to resume his life.” Good Americans sent to war, and who died, now number close to 3,600. They will not be getting on with their lives. And let’s not forget the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed. More than 20,000 Americans are wounded, some with limbs lost, some blinded, some brain-damaged. They have no choice but to get on with their lives, but without a star-studded fundraising committee.

The Declaration of Independence speaks of unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It also says that when a government “becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it.”

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