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Superman Scooter

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The Neocon corner has been training its well coordinated and still considerable press fire power (The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard and Commentary in the lead, as usual) for some time in the defense of Scooter Libby, and yesterday evening it erupted in a display of triumph. Only left-wing kooks, they say, will be troubled by Bush’s decision that Scooter should do no time.

Of course these voices who today insist that Libby’s practiced deceits in front of a grand jury with respect to the outing of a covert CIA agent are inconsequential nonsense, only eight years ago were screaming bloody murder and demanding impeachment and prosecution of a president who lied about having a sexual liaison. But if we expect consistency in the attitudes of political hacks, we’re certain to be disappointed. Indeed, one of the great pleasures of observing the political game in contemporary Washington is charting all of these stunning – and so rarely reflected upon – hypocrisies.

Moreover, this episode tells us one of the most deeply guarded truths of the Inner Party of the Neocon movement, namely: the ends justify the means. That is, to accomplish a goal accepted by the Inner Party, you are entitled to do anything – break the law, by all means, and indeed set the law into oblivion if you can. That explains the fate of the Geneva Conventions, which were, alas, simply inconvenient – they got in the way of the notion that no rules can stand between us and the accomplishment of our objectives. For the Nietzschean Neocon man (let’s call him Übermensch or perhaps even better, Scooter Libby), there are no rules; they exist for the people of the herd. And that explains the indignation when the rules for the herd are applied against Scooter.

So how to dispose of the legal process that was commenced against Libby? The answer was simple: politicize it. Insist that every step taken against Libby was a part of a political vendetta. Granted this required some ingenuity – after all, the prosecutors and judges involved were Republicans or at least Bush appointees. But these are inconvenient truths, easily swept aside – and the arguments ricocheted through the pages of Neocon journals through yesterday, when the July the Fourth fireworks came out prematurely. Perhaps they were simply too absurd to be joined, but I salute Orin Kerr who yesterday offered some of the most penetrating analysis yet of the delusional criticism that comes from the Neocons:

The Scooter Libby case has triggered some very weird commentary around the blogosphere; perhaps the weirdest claim is that the case against Libby was “purely political.” I find this argument seriously bizarre. As I understand it, Bush political appointee James Comey named Bush political appointee and career prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate the Plame leak. Bush political appointee and career prosecutor Fitzgerald filed an indictment and went to trial before Bush political appointee Reggie Walton. A jury convicted Libby, and Bush political appointee Walton sentenced him. At sentencing, Bush political appointee Judge Walton described the evidence against Libby as “overwhelming” and concluded that a 30-month sentence was appropriate. And yet the claim, as I understand it, is that the Libby prosecution was the work of political enemies who were just trying to hurt the Bush Administration.

I find this claim bizarre. I’m open to arguments that parts of the case against Libby were unfair. But for the case to have been purely political, doesn’t that require the involvement of someone who was not a Bush political appointee? Who are the political opponents who brought the case? Is the idea that Fitzgerald is secretly a Democratic party operative? That Judge Walton is a double agent? Or is the idea that Fitzgerald and Walton were hypnotized by “the Mainstream Media” like Raymond Shaw in the Manchurian Candidate? Seriously, I don’t get it.

And add to this the fact that the appellate panel that turned Scooter down was heavy with GOP power figures, most notably Judge Sentelle – the man who hand-picked Ken Starr to head the Whitewater scandal because he thought Robert Fisk, the prosecutor then in charge, wasn’t partisan enough. But they unanimously rejected Libby’s plea for a stay pending appeal.

This is one hell of a strange political manipulation of justice.
And yet all of this reminded me of something else. Back in my earlier life, I invested many years defending democracy and human rights advocates in the former Soviet Union (and in this effort, I had strong support from prominent Neocons, many of whom remain my friends today). I remember one afternoon sitting with Elena Bonner, the doyenne of the movement, in her apartment on Moscow’s Chkalova Street, turning over the case of a poor refusenik who was being persecuted by the KGB. And Bonner lectured me: “You need to remember one tactic of the totalitarian mindset, a tactic that belongs to the basic training of KGB cadres. They frequently accuse their victim of doing exactly what they, in fact, are doing. Why? It has a double utility. It forces the victim to use his meager resources defending himself from false challenges. But more importantly, it deflects attention from their own scheming and plotting.” Well, that turned out to be exactly the case in the matter we were discussing.

And the more I think of the charge of “politics” and the case of Scooter Libby, the more it strikes me that the charge is absolutely true. There is no question whatsoever that the prosecutorial function in the United States has been radically politicized. The Neocons have provided the ideological rationalization for it, and the White House has overseen the process from the beginning. Now Bush’s deus ex machina intervention to save Libby from time in prison should be taken as the ultimate proof of exactly that politicization.

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