Old Boss. New Boss. (Worse than My Lai edition)
July 2, 2007 - 6:58pm ET
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Big Con readers may have noticed that, having just finished a very long manuscript on the backlash against liberalism and the left between the years 1965 to 1972, I tend to see the world through Nixon-colored glasses. And already in the last 24 hours I've compared an apparent military coverup of what might be a civian massacre in Iraq to the sort of thing we saw after the My Lai Massacre.
I'm about to bring up My Lai again - and the subject is Scooter Libby. Let me know if you think I'm out of bounds.
''I respect the jury's verdict. But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby's sentence that required him to spend thirty months in prison.''
What Scooter Libby is guilty of is nothing like Lieut. William Calley's conviction for murdering scores of innocents. (You might argue that Libby's underlying offense - assisting in the outing a CIA agent working on nuclear proliferation in the Middle East - was potentially far, far worse - though our final evidence for that question would have to be a mushroom cloud.) But what George W. Bush has just done is a lot like what Richard Nixon did when he Calley was convicted in March of 1971. He effectively, if not technically, commuted his sentence - reducing it from life at hard labor to house arrest at his Fort Benning quarters.
Bush now says: "Both critics and defenders of this investigation have made important points. I have made my own evaluation. In preparing for the decision I am announcing today, I have carefully weighed these arguments and the circumstances surrounding this case." But he has no business (even if he has, strictly speaking, the Constitutional right) evaluating the case. Unless he holds our American system of justice sacred.
In 1971, Defense Secretary Melvin Laird privately complained, "Intervention in the Calley case repudiates the military justice system." Publicly, the case's prosecutor, Captain Aubrey Daniel, wrote the President, "The greatest tragedy of all will be if political expedience dictates the compromise of such a fundamental moral principle as the inherent unlawfulness of the murder of innocent persons." William Greider, who had covered the trial in the Washington Post, wondered: "Should [the White House] open the doors at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and release all the other soldiers convicted of the same offense as Calley?"
Should the White House now open the doors of the prisons to the many, many other Americans serving terms as severe as Libby's was supposed to be for perjury and obstruction of justice, in investigations that impinged in no way whatsoever, as Libbly's did, on the government's ongoing ability to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons?
I don't see how the President can argue otherwise.
It's Presidential justice: like that of a king. Or a dictator. Maybe GWB was bucked up by his visit from Vladamir Putin, the former KGB chief. He decides who gets to go to jail, who goes free and who doesn't; he also gets to make up every rule as he goes along - "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," he also said in his statement. "But with the denial of bail being upheld and incarceration imminent, I believe it is now important to react to that decision."
Well, he's reacted. And America has just been profoundly diminished. The greatest tragedy of all: political expedience dictates has compromised of such a fundamental moral principle not merely that no American is above the law, but that the national security of the United States trumps crony politics. Worse than crony politics, actually, and worse than My Lai: obstruction of justice. Does anyone believe this isn't meant to keep Scooter from squealing against higher-ups?
[UPDATE: Our president in 1999: "I don’t believe my role [as governor] is to replace the verdict of a jury with my own, unless there are new facts or evidence of which a jury was unaware, or evidence that the trial was somehow unfair."]
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