In 2003, while pledging to fire anyone in his administration found to
have leaked the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Wilson to
journalists, President George Bush intoned that he did not know of
"anybody in my administration who leaked classified information."
Pick your favorite Bush quote on this topic; there are countless good
ones, now that we learn that former Vice Presidential Chief of Staff
Scooter Libby, when forced by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to
testify under oath to save his own skin, fingered both Bush and his
former boss, Dick Cheney. Libby testified that they both authorized the
leaking of classified National Intelligence Estimate information on
in July 2003 in order to defend the administration's decision to
unilaterally invade Iraq. A president who has ordered the launching of
widespread investigations to find leakers in the CIA and State
Department, including the polygraphing of scores of intelligence
professionals, the man who wants the NSA spying and CIA gulag
whistleblowers prosecuted, is himself a leaker. And the same testimony
revealed that Bush was aware at every step of the way of the ongoing
campaign to publicly smear Ambassador Joseph Wilson and his wife,
CIA operative Valerie Wilson. Pick your sanctimonious Bush statements
about that, too.
What. A. Freaking. Hypocrite.
And, as we've come to expect, a liar. Stop the presses. We're so
accustomed to the lies of George Bush being uncovered after the fact,
don't even notice any longer.
And they thought Clinton's behavior brought disgrace to the Oval
Beyond those obvious morsels, however, lies the disturbing legal
rationale for the Bush/Cheney leak, offered up by Attorney General
Alberto Gonzales (naturally) and already arrived at Scott McClellan's
mouth. The White House, tellingly, has not denied any of Libby's
testimony (including the Wilson conspiracy). The leak was legal and
proper, the defense goes, because the president's verbal authority is
enough to declassify classified information, and by authorizing its
release Bush automatically declassified it.
The White House is sticking to this story even though much of the
cherry-picked NEI Iraq data was formally declassified ten days after
leak, so that the Bush administration could further defend its choice
invade. According to the White House, the later declassification shows
that the NEI data wasn't all that important and that the leak didn't
damage national security. But that misses the point. If Bush's word is
enough to declassify classified information, why did the White House
feel the need to "formally declassify" the material ten days later?
Wasn't the deed already done, on Bush's sole verbal authority?
Now they're claiming that's the case, and the Bush NEI leak rationale
follows an all-too-familiar theme: Bush cannot break the law, because
Bush is the law. He can't leak a document, because if he says
it's OK to release the document it's therefore by definition not a
Just like torture is illegal except when George says it's not. Or
warrantless domestic wiretapping is illegal, except when he authorizes
Bush and the people around him appear to have genuinely believed, for
least the four and a half years since 9-11, that the President by
definition is incapable of breaking the law. On his sole authority
laws can be ignored, overridden, or changed. Even implicitly. Even
retroactively, as when some unappetizing piece of this puzzle
inadvertently comes to the public's attention.
Combine this with an administration more intent on secrecy and lack of
transparency than any other in U.S. history, and you have a recipe for,
well, a dictatorship. Which is exactly what it appears Bush and company
believe they are operating in. Oh, of course, in normal times America
a democracy, but these aren't normal times, are they? Why? Because
at war. Why are we at war? Because the President said so. How long will
the war last? Several generations. After that, presumably, the
Constitution will be in force again, and Congress and the courts can
re-convene if they like.
The tendency will be for this leak headline, as with so many Bush
scandals before it, to slip from the news after a few days, with the
gutless Republican-controlled Congress rendered irrelevant and the
Republican-appointed courts years away from final rulings on any of
nonsense. But the recurrent theme of a President and his administration
which believe they are above the law -- Bush on his own say-so, and the
rest of them acting on his presumed authority -- is more than a
It is a direct challenge to the Constitution of the United States of
America. You know, the "freedom" that politicians like Bush enjoy
invoking when talking about the soldiers they're sending to kill and be
killed in one or another illegal, pointless War On Brown People.
It is more evident than ever that this President and Vice President
to be impeached. Not because it is or isn't politically expedient; not
even because their successors might be any better, or because it will
an advantage for one or another party in 2008. But because this sort of
behavior in the most powerful job in the world must be punished, in the
clearest possible manner. Justice demands it. Setting an example, to
to prevent similar abuses by future leaders from any party,
Otherwise, we might as well cancel that 2008 presidential election and
be done with this farce we call an electoral process. Sooner or later,
should Bush go unpunished, somebody in power is going to try to do
exactly that sort of thing. When they do, they'll cite national
and the need for stable and experienced political leadership in a time
of war, and when they do, they'll cite the precedents set by George
and permitted by the Congress, courts, and American public of his day.
And our country's long, mostly successful experiment in representative
democracy will be over.
Perhaps it already is.
Geov Parrish is a Seattle-based columnist and reporter for Seattle Weekly, In These Times and Eat the State! He writes the daily Straight Shot for WorkingForChange. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org -- please indicate whether your comments may be used on WorkingForChange in an upcoming "letters" column.
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