A lot of people who should know better are celebrating the conviction of Scooter Libby for lying to a grand jury investigating the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame.
Now Scooter Libby is responsible for some horrendous things, and along with the rest of the Bush administration and half the members of the Clinton and Papa Bush administrations, he should be on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in continuing the sixteen year was on the people of Iraq. But I just can’t get behind the idea that someone should go to prison for lying to a grand jury that was trying to find out who leaked the name of a CIA agent — even when that liar had an odious motive.
The grand jury Libby lied to was investigating alleged violations of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act which makes it illegal to publicly identify an intelligence agent working undercover. It was passed in 1982 to protect the resurgent power of the CIA, which was beginning to repair its image in the wake of the publication of former CIA agent Philip Agee’s damning memoir, Inside the Company, and the Church Committee’s 1975 and 1976 hearings on CIA crimes. Its passage coincided, of course, with a horrific escalation in CIA involvement in murder, torture, and drug trafficking in Latin America.
Its a bad law. Trying to keep the likes o Karl Rove and Scooter Libby from outing someone like Valerie Plame isn’t worth the price of preventing whistleblowers from exposing CIA crimes. (And I don’t think we should be so quick to canonize Valerie Plame or Joseph Wilson anyway, given their long shared history of high-level work for shady agencies of a criminal government. My own reading of the whole affair is that Wilson was involved in an intramural squabble that pitted pragmatic hawks who believed in continuing to starve Iraqis to death against neoconservatives who wanted to kill them more quickly.)
And as for the grand jury — there is a long and sordid history in this country of prosecutors using grand juries to launch broad investigations based on questionable evidence. The prosecutors can scare some people into offering up new information, lock up a few people for refusing to testify, and get others so flustered that they get caught perjuring themselves. The government is currently using grand juries in a concerted way to round up people connected with the Black Panthers, the Black Liberation Army, the Earth Liberation Front, and the Animal Liberation Front. Grand juries are primarily a tool for circumventing the Fifth Amendment.
Jailing Scooter Libby for obstructing the work of a prosecutor who was using bullying tactics to investigate the violation of a law that shouldn’t exist in the first place doesn’t bring us any closer to ending the war in Iraq. So let’s put this media circus behind us and get back to work.