02-Nov-2005

Blind Justice

Another development over the weekend was the indictment of a top government official, Scooter Libby, in the Bush administration. The background is this:

In the run-up to the Iraq war, as the Bush government tried to make the case for the war, some documents surfaced that seemed to show that Saddam Hussein was trying to buy some stuff in Africa that could be used for making WMD. The CIA sent a former diplomat to verify those claims. He found that the claims were false. But Bush had already included those claims in an important speech he made. The diplomat went to the press alleging that the administration falsified information to make the case for war stronger. The administration then started a campaign to discredit this person, by claiming that he was sent on the recommendation of his wife who worked at the CIA, and hence he was somehow not fit enough for the task and his opinion was worthless. Apparently, 'outing' a CIA agent is a felony in the US. The CIA asked for an inquiry as to how the name got leaked. After a 2-year investigation a special prosecutor has indicted the chief-of-staff of the vice-president. He is still investigating the political adviser to Bush, who may also be indicted. The current indictment is not for the act of 'outing' the agent, apparently there wasn't sufficient proof to bring that charge. It is for 5 other counts, one of them is obstruction of justice. Libby apparently tried to lead investigators down the wrong alley by lying at the beginning of the probe.

I watched the press conference of the special investigator. It was inspiring. He spoke in simple words. But the message was quite powerful. The guilty will be punished. At least in the US.

Republicans, even before the much-anticipated indictment were trying to spin it, saying that the indictment would not be for the actual crime, but would be based on 'technicalities', and so he should not bring the indictments. This is what the prosecutor had to say when a reporter asked him about this :
I'll be blunt.

That talking point won't fly. If you're doing a national security investigation, if you're trying to find out who compromised the identity of a CIA officer and you go before a grand jury and if the charges are proven ... that the chief of staff to the vice president went before a federal grand jury and lied under oath repeatedly and fabricated a story about how he learned this information, how he passed it on, and we prove obstruction of justice, perjury and false statements to the FBI, that is a very, very serious matter.

And I'd say this: I think people might not understand this. We, as prosecutors and FBI agents, have to deal with false statements, obstruction of justice and perjury all the time. The Department of Justice charges those statutes all the time.

When I was in New York working as a prosecutor, we brought those cases because we realized that the truth is the engine of our judicial system. And if you compromise the truth, the whole process is lost.

...

And if a truck driver pays a bribe or someone else does something where they go into a grand jury afterward and lie about it, they get indicted all the time.

Any notion that anyone might have that there's a different standard for a high official, that this is somehow singling out obstruction of justice and perjury, is upside down.

If these facts are true, if we were to walk away from this and not charge obstruction of justice and perjury, we might as well just hand in our jobs. Because our jobs, the criminal justice system, is to make sure people tell us the truth. And when it's a high-level official and a very sensitive investigation, it is a very, very serious matter that no one should take lightly.

Take that, youse! Now a criminal trial will start, but the indicted person has already resigned. For some more on the signifance of the forthcoming trial, read this from The Guardian, via DH.