Wednesday, November 02, 2005

A response to Chris Hitchens

Since I have the Christopher Hitchens Web in my links section I feel obligated to respond to Chris's latest editorial for the Wall Street Journal. I can understand Mr. Hitchens believing that Sadaam posessed wmd's or soon would, and I can understand Mr. Hitchens desire to see Sadaam removed from power, as there is no question that he was a monsterous dictator, but I can not understand Mr. Hitchens defense of the thoroughly despicable and anti-democratic behavior our government employed to achieve the war. And I can not excuse Mr. Hitchens inventing a fantasy reality to validate the war, a war which to date has cost tens of thousands of lives and which might continue to cost tens of thousands of lives as long as we "stay the course" since the course that has been set by President Bush's administration has been disastrous incompetence.

The outrage of the left at any infringement of CIA prerogatives is only the least of the ironies in the indictment of Lewis Libby for discussing matters the disclosure of which, in and of itself, appears to have violated no known law.
The outrage of "the left" is over the adminstration using anonymous leaking to reporters to discredit political rivals. Lewis Libby was not indicted (for outing an agent) because Fitzgerald could not prove he knowingly outed a covert agent, but it takes a great deal of naivety to think Libby and Rove and Cheney and the rest of the Iraq "cabal" did not know what they were doing when they outed Plame. If they didn't know she was covert they should have checked to see if she was covert before outing her. Regardless, anyone who had seen the State Dept. memo that circulated around the White House in 2003 would have known that Plame's status as an employee of the CIA was classified.

But Hitchens is right, Libby's disclosure in and of itself violates no known law, but as he notes in his next paragraph, Fitzgerald provides an answer as to why it was not a violation - it could not be proven that Libby "knowingly" and "intentionally" outed an agent. This does not mean that he did not knowingly or intentionally out an agent, it just means Fitzgerald lacked the evidence to establish it. Not surprising, as Fitzgerald is not a mind-reader.

The fact that is amazing to me is that Hitchens can remain so oblivious to the fact that what Libby was charged with, however, provides circumstantial evidence that he knew what he was doing when he outed Plame to reporters. Those five counts he was charged with were basically about him lying about how he came to know who Plame was.

To judge by his verbose and self-regarding performance, containing as it did the most prolix and least relevant baseball analogy ever offered to a non-Chicago audience, Patrick Fitzgerald is not a man with whom the ironic weighs heavily.
Judge for yourelf, reader. Here is the transcript of Fitzgerald's press briefing.

As to the critical question of whether Ms. Plame had any cover to blow, Mr. Fitzgerald was equally insouciant: "I am not speaking to whether or not Valerie Wilson was covert."

In the absence of any such assertion or allegation, one must be forgiven for wondering what any of this gigantic fuss can possibly be about
Interesting. Hitchens seems to have missed this part of Fitzgerald's speech

Valerie Wilson was a CIA officer. In July 2003, the fact that Valerie Wilson was a CIA officer was classified. Not only was it classified, but it was not widely known outside the intelligence community.

Valerie Wilson's friends, neighbors, college classmates had no idea she had another life.

The fact that she was a CIA officer was not well- known, for her protection or for the benefit of all us. It's important that a CIA officer's identity be protected, that it be protected not just for the officer, but for the nation's security.

Valerie Wilson's cover was blown in July 2003. The first sign of that cover being blown was when Mr. Novak published a column on July 14th, 2003.

Hitchens continues with utter nonsense

George Tenet, in his capacity as Director of Central Intelligence, tells Dick Cheney that he employs Mr. Wilson's wife as an analyst of the weird and wonderful world of WMD. So jealously guarded is its own exclusive right to "out" her, however, that no sooner does anyone else mention her name than the CIA refers the Wilson/Plame disclosure to the Department of Justice.
Right, Chris. Because Tenet telling the Vice President in private Plame's identity is the same thing as members of the VP's office telling reporters her identity anonymously in the hopes they'd run a story outing her. Same difference, in Hitchens fantasy world.

Mr. Fitzgerald, therefore, seems to have decided to act "as if." He conducts himself as if Ms. Plame's identity was not widely known, as if she were working under "non official cover" (NOC)...
Fact: Valerie Plame was under non official cover. I refer Mr. Hitchens to the last two issues of The Economist, for a reputable source on this matter

However, what if one proposes an alternative "what if" narrative? What if Mr. Wilson spoke falsely when he asserted that his wife, who was not in fact under "non-official cover," had nothing to do with his visit to Niger? What if he was wrong in stating that Iraqi envoys had never even expressed an interest in Niger's only export? (Most European intelligence services stand by their story that there was indeed such a Baathist initiative.) What if his main friends in Niger were the very people he was supposed to be investigating?

Well, in that event, and after he had awarded himself some space on an op-ed page, what was to inhibit an employee of the Bush administration from calling attention to these facts, and letting reporters decide for themselves?
Well, for one, the classified status of Plame's identity would have prevented an employee of the Bush administration from calling attention to that fact. Regarding the substance of Wilson's claims, a member of the Bush administration indeed could have challenged him on the facts. They could have done that publically, and such an act would have been within the democratic spirit.

But the leakers were not interested in doing that. The leakers wanted to generate a meme to discredit Wilson. That meme was Wilson was a lying partisan unqualified to comment, who only was sent to Niger because his wife pulled some strings to get him there. See, that's a form of the genetic fallacy, an ad hominem attack. Its red herring, Chris - and you bought it.

All worthwhile information in Washington is "classified" one way or another. We have good reason to be grateful to various officials and reporters who have, in our past, decided that disclosure was in the public interest. None of the major criticisms of the Bush administration would have become available if it were not for the willingness of many former or serving bureaucrats to "go public." But this widely understood right--now presumably in some jeopardy--makes no sense if supporters of the administration are not permitted to reply in kind.
The disclosure of Valerie Plame's identity was not in the public interest. It was in the private interest of the people within the administration that wanted a war with Iraq. I wonder if the people who have worked with Plame in the past who might still be operating in the field under cover think the outing of her identity was in their best interests.

If those public officials who outed Plame were interested in the public interest they would have taken the debate truthfully to the public - they would have admitted that the documents cited had questionable intelligence value (the CIA and State Dept. had concluded in early 2002 the claims of Iraq seeking uranium in Niger were baseless) - instead of taking the more Machiavellian route (yes Chris, secretly spreading information to discredit an enemy without confronting the content of their objections head on is indeed Machiavellian.)

Hitchens concludes that the legislation against outing an agent has "hallow[ed] out the First Amendment". I'm not sure how to respond to this line of reasoning. I suppose on some level not being able to out a covert agent's identity is an abrigement of the 1st amendment, but it would seem obvious why such was necessary.

Again, I refer Mr. Hitchens to the latest issue of The Economist, which asks rhetorically what the White House could claim they were aiming to protect

The right to leak confidential information to the press? The right to smear a critic of your policies? The right to tell half truths to a grand jury?
Hitchens has unashamedly answered yes to all of these. Somehow, the following bit from Fitzgerald does not bother Chris. It bothers me, and it should bother any American who expects honesty and integrity from a public official.

So that at least seven discussions involving government officials prior to the day when Mr. Libby claims he learned this information as if it were new from Mr. Russert. And, in fact, when he spoke to Mr. Russert, they never discussed it.

But in addition to focusing on how it is that Mr. Libby learned this information and what he thought about it, it's important to focus on what it is that Mr. Libby said to the reporters.

In the account he gave to the FBI and to the grand jury was that he told reporters Cooper and Miller at the end of the week, on July 12th. And that what he told them was he gave them information that he got from other reporters; other reporters were saying this, and Mr. Libby did not know if it were true. And in fact, Mr. Libby testified that he told the reporters he did not even know if Mr. Wilson had a wife.

And, in fact, we now know that Mr. Libby discussed this information about Valerie Wilson at least four times prior to July 14th, 2003: on three occasions with Judith Miller of the New York Times and on one occasion with Matthew Cooper of Time magazine.

The first occasion in which Mr. Libby discussed it with Judith Miller was back in June 23rd of 2003, just days after an article appeared online in the New Republic which quoted some critical commentary from Mr. Wilson.

After that discussion with Judith Miller on June 23rd, 2003, Mr. Libby also discussed Valerie Wilson on July 8th of 2003.

During that discussion, Mr. Libby talked about Mr. Wilson in a conversation that was on background as a senior administration official. And when Mr. Libby talked about Wilson, he changed the attribution to a former Hill staffer.

During that discussion, which was to be attributed to a former Hill staffer, Mr. Libby also discussed Wilson's wife, Valerie Wilson, working at the CIA -- and then, finally, again, on July 12th.

In short -- and in those conversations, Mr. Libby never said, "This is something that other reporters are saying;" Mr. Libby never said, "This is something that I don't know if it's true;" Mr. Libby never said, "I don't even know if he had a wife."

At the end of the day what appears is that Mr. Libby's story that he was at the tail end of a chain of phone calls, passing on from one reporter what he heard from another, was not true.

It was false. He was at the beginning of the chain of phone calls, the first official to disclose this information outside the government to a reporter. And then he lied about it afterwards, under oath and repeatedly.


Sonic said...

Hope you dont mind but I linked to your article here

Hume's Ghost said...

I don't mind at all.

John Lombard said...

I don't even feel any animus towards him anymore -- it's just depressing, particularly when he's done such perceptive and incisive work in the past. But the seeds were always there -- he was always very quick to mock and belittle. How does this happen to someone?

(I'd also like to see him try and go back to Iraq and repeat his 2003 visit -- it'd be interesting to see if the current state of the country would have any effect on this rhetoric.)

Anonymous said...

I doubt he'd get a mile out of the Green Zone before being captured and eventually beheaded.