Sunday, June 24, 2007

Scooting The Truth

Esteemed prose stylist and political satirist Richard "Dice" Cohen deserves at least some credit for continuing to find new and innovative ways of cognitive trickery. The latest and greatest is his attempt to split the Scooter baby in two. Everybody wins!

With the sentencing of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Fitzgerald has apparently finished his work, which was, not to put too fine a point on it, to make a mountain out of a molehill. At the urging of the liberal press (especially the New York Times), he was appointed to look into a run-of-the-mill leak and wound up prosecuting not the leaker -- Richard Armitage of the State Department -- but Libby, convicted in the end of lying. This is not an entirely trivial matter since government officials should not lie to grand juries, but neither should they be called to account for practicing the dark art of politics. As with sex or real estate, it is often best to keep the lights off.

Heh-indeedy. Except, you know, even though human history is of course littered with bloody conflicts that were started precisely over sex and/or real estate, the fact is that we're sorta trying to at least give the appearance of running a nation of laws. The real point of a nation of laws, folks, is our old friend Accountability. It's been said a million times by a million diligent observers, many of them unwashed vituperative bloggerses such as myself, but it bears re-iteration yet again: Libby -- and more importantly, the OVP -- was at the heart of a whispering campaign to discredit a person who had damning evidence that refuted the cheap Italian forgeries Cheney's crew were waving loud and long to push us into war. Joe Wilson had the goods on their little chop job, and said so. Libby, among others, happily joined in the effort to retrieve a bungled preventive war from the jaws of sensibility.

Maybe it's not fair that, so far, Scooter is the only humanoid being held accountable for this. That's his own fault. He knows where all the bodies are buried; he knows what sort of underhanded shit his boss has engaged in since the day he oozed into office. It's his choice whether he wants to do the right thing or not.

Accountability is one thing. By all means, let Congress investigate and conduct oversight hearings with relish and abandon. But a prosecution is a different matter. It entails the government at its most coercive -- a power so immense and sometimes so secretive that it poses much more of a threat to civil liberties, including freedom of the press, than anything in the interstices of the scary Patriot Act.

I think this is really what's at the heart of Cohen's discontent with the Scooter narrative, that, gee whiz, our good friends in the responsible media -- you know, like the Queen of All Iraq -- might get cowed by such irresponsible demonstrations of government power. Bollocks. The media, for the most part, happily went along with whatever they were told. Didn't seem like Judy Miller was all that coerced into cozying up to her sources, including one Scooter Libby. That it takes government oversight (here serendipitously termed "coercion", as if the utter lack of cooperation among every major player didn't require exactly that) to start getting to the bottom of this is not a coincidence.

Even funnier is how defensive the Diceman got with commenters who called him on his lame nonsense:

Centreville, Va.: Mr. Cohen -- in December 1998 you wrote in regard to Clinton's perjury: "The condemned man is guilty. He lied in the Paula Jones deposition and he lied to a federal grand jury and, most gallingly if not grievously, he lied to the American people. A hanging of some sort is in order." Given that he was convicted of lying to a grand jury, the American people's representatives as it were, what makes his case so different such that you think Libby should be spared "a hanging of some sort." You must admit you are not being consistent here.

Richard Cohen: No, I admit no such thing. I said in the column that I don't condone Libby's lying -- in fact I'm appalled by it. I didn't condone Clinton's lying, but singling out that one column about Clinton misses the message I wrote in several other columns. This was a perjury trap -- you set him up to ask a question that he almost had to lie about. Once you go past that point and lie to the grand jury, no one can support it, but you can understand the reason for the lie.

In Libby's case, I don't know the reason for the crime. I don't know whether or not he was telling the truth and simply forgot he leaked this information -- it's a remote possibility, but I don't buy it. I don't know if he was covering up for someone else's political embarrassment. But I don't think that's the same thing as actually committing a crime.

Jesus H. Christ. I don't see what's so complicated here. Libby was convicted on multiple felony counts, goddammit, by a Republican prosecutor and a Republican judge. Yet Cohen persists in alluding to "Clinton's lying", the culmination of a concerted partisan campaign to "get" him, versus the unearthing of a very real, concrete scandal revolving around the office of the vice-preznit and, as Cohen himself mentions several times, an office aide nobody had heard of a year or two ago.

But again, Cohen's real issue is with the supposed strain all this government "coercion" inadvertently puts on all the gosh-darn honest-to-goodness shoe-leather journamalists like poor ol' Judy Miller. I mean, if Matt Cooper and Tim Russert can't give voice to anonymous government douchebags who are quite transparently using them to further their own nefarious agenda, what's the purpose of a free press? It's such a reductio ad absurdum argument, it scarcely merits addressing.

And yet, it's simple -- the Libby scandal (which still, despite Cohen's allusions to the contrary, may very well be the thread that unravels all the destructive schemes percolating out of Cheney's office) shows quite clearly how the "legitimate" press got clowned by their own anonymous sources. Anonymity is one thing in the blogosphere; for one thing, quite a few people on the internets know my real-life name, but the fact of the matter is that if Cohen (or any other pundit) has a problem with being hassled by anonymous internets pundits, he can take it up with Publius. Hell, I don't even care if Cohen himself starts peddling his schtick under a crazy 'nets handle.

But anonymously-sourced journalism is a real problem, if the journalists in question are not astute enough to realize -- as was the case with Miller, Russert, and Cooper, for starters -- that they were getting played, and played hard. You would think that just basic professional dignity would require them to turn around and start digging some real dirt on those people who punked them. But they don't, and they won't. Why is that? Is it because they won't get invited to any more cool parties, like Open Mike Allen goes to, where people can just wander up and whisper stupid nothings, and count on it to get stenographed under a "Hot DC Gossip" byline?

Sorry Diceman, but that's not journalism, that's just being a useful idiot for these characters. And it's an abuse of the first amendment, as well as common sense, to continue to harrumph about the horror of it all, when kids are getting blown up every damned day because these fuckheads didn't do their damned jobs. They had to get Al Capone on tax evasion; if they have to frog-march these fuckers out based on Scooter's well-earned four felony convictions, we can live with it, especially if Scooter and well-connected buddies are content to let him play the patsy, instead of coming clean on all this.

Even more damning is the finally-publicized methodology of Cheney's silent coup.

Just past the Oval Office, in the private dining room overlooking the South Lawn, Vice President Cheney joined President Bush at a round parquet table they shared once a week. Cheney brought a four-page text, written in strict secrecy by his lawyer. He carried it back out with him after lunch.

In less than an hour, the document traversed a West Wing circuit that gave its words the power of command. It changed hands four times, according to witnesses, with emphatic instructions to bypass staff review. When it returned to the Oval Office, in a blue portfolio embossed with the presidential seal, Bush pulled a felt-tip pen from his pocket and signed without sitting down. Almost no one else had seen the text.

Cheney's proposal had become a military order from the commander in chief. Foreign terrorism suspects held by the United States were stripped of access to any court -- civilian or military, domestic or foreign. They could be confined indefinitely without charges and would be tried, if at all, in closed "military commissions."

"What the hell just happened?" Secretary of State Colin L. Powell demanded, a witness said, when CNN announced the order that evening, Nov. 13, 2001. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice, incensed, sent an aide to find out. Even witnesses to the Oval Office signing said they did not know the vice president had played any part.

Okay, now that is journalism, even with the anonymous (although apparently independently corroborated) sourcing. It would have been helpful to have some of this concrete info on Cheney's shadow government, say, four or five years ago, but here it is, now. I don't see how any serious person can take a look at all that, in the context of just the things we know about with regard to operational policy, and consider the entirety of Scooter Libby's role in the propaganda run-up to the war, and still think "poor Scooter". Fuck Scooter Libby; considering the damage that's been wrought by the shenanigans from his office, he's getting off easy. Couple years in Club Fed and then his conservatard asshole buddies will send him on the lucrative rubber-chicken circuit for six months, while he writes his seven-figure advance memoir and they pay his legal bills.

A prodigious appetite for work, officials said, prepares Cheney to shape the president's conversations with others. His Secret Service detail sometimes reports that he is awake and reading at 4:30 a.m. He receives a private intelligence briefing between 6:30 and 7 a.m., often identifying issues to be called to Bush's attention, and then sits in on the president's daily briefing an hour later. Aides said that Cheney insists on joining Bush by secure video link, no matter how many time zones divide them.

Stealth is among Cheney's most effective tools. Man-size Mosler safes, used elsewhere in government for classified secrets, store the workaday business of the office of the vice president. Even talking points for reporters are sometimes stamped "Treated As: Top Secret/SCI." Experts in and out of government said Cheney's office appears to have invented that designation, which alludes to "sensitive compartmented information," the most closely guarded category of government secrets. By adding the words "treated as," they said, Cheney seeks to protect unclassified work as though its disclosure would cause "exceptionally grave damage to national security."

Across the board, the vice president's office goes to unusual lengths to avoid transparency. Cheney declines to disclose the names or even the size of his staff, generally releases no public calendar and ordered the Secret Service to destroy his visitor logs. His general counsel has asserted that "the vice presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch," and is therefore exempt from rules governing either. Cheney is refusing to observe an executive order on the handling of national security secrets, and he proposed to abolish a federal office that insisted on auditing his compliance.

This is what happens when politics, like sex and real estate, gets done with the lights off. Scooter Libby was central to that effort, and while the world reaps the consequences of piss-poor decision-making and concerted attempts to avoid oversight and accountability, people like Cohen ponder what a mess it all is, and can't we just clean it up by cutting poor Scooter a break and making nice?

No. It's why I can't stand those Unity '08 putzes; I don't want to get along, I don't want to make nice. They're law-breakers, they live and breathe total contempt for true democratic process, which can survive only on accountability and oversight. This behavior requires active prosecution from responsible quarters, and unequivocal repudiation from responsible commentators. There's literally nothing to make nice over; you either respect the ideals of democratic tradition, or you think Dick Cheney should be able to pervert the systems of government to conform to his will, and his will alone. (Seriously, you watch how fast all these principled fucks will insist on oversight when a Democratic administration comes in. The difference is, so will I. Intellectual honesty, people; check it out sometime.) Bottom line -- Cheney is not going to have a spasm of conscience and voluntarily stop running the government from his redoubts and hedges of clustered legalese bullshit. We have to decide whether or not we want it back, and then take it back, wrest it from his grasping, scheming little claws.

This story is and always has been so much bigger than Scooter Libby. He got caught up in it because, when presented the opportunity to show loyalty to company or country, he chose company. Very well then, he can reap the whirlwind. He's a coward, and a toady, and his conduct was borderline treasonous (and no, I am entirely unwilling to parse the degree of Valerie Plame's covert status; it's pretty clear that she was, and her assignment was strategically important to the GWOT). Let his GOP butt-buddies chip in and defend him; he does not deserve the approbation of respectable people.

1 comment:

BitterHarvest said...

Cohen is a cut-rate apologist, but at least he is unusual.