We have yet another remarkable revelation of the mindset of Washington's ruling clique of neoconservative elites -- the people who took us to war from the safety of their Beltway bunkers. Even as Iraq grows bloodier by the day, their passion of the week is to keep one of their own from going to jail.
It is well known that I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby -- once Vice President Cheney's most trusted adviser-has been sentenced to 30 months in jail for perjury. Lying. Not a white lie, mind you. A killer lie. Scooter Libby deliberately poured poison into the drinking water of democracy by lying to federal investigators, for the purpose of obstructing justice.
Attempting to trash critics of the war, Libby and his pals in high places-including his boss Dick Cheney-outed a covert CIA agent. Libby then lied to cover their tracks. To throw investigators off the trail, he kicked sand in the eyes of truth. "Libby lied about nearly everything that mattered," wrote the chief prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. The jury agreed and found him guilty on four felony counts. Judge Reggie B. Walton-a no-nonsense, lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key type, appointed to the bench by none other than George W. Bush-called the evidence "overwhelming" and threw the book at Libby.
You would have thought their man had been ordered to Guantanamo, so intense was the reaction from his cheerleaders. They flooded the judge's chambers with letters of support for their comrade and took to the airwaves in a campaign to "free Scooter."
Vice President Cheney issued a statement praising Libby as "a man...of personal integrity" -- without even a hint of irony about their collusion to browbeat the CIA into mangling intelligence about Iraq in order to justify the invasion.
"A patriot, a dedicated public servant, a strong family man, and a tireless, honorable, selfless human being," said Donald Rumsfeld-the very same Rumsfeld who had claimed to know the whereabouts of weapons of mass destruction and who boasted of "bulletproof" evidence linking Saddam to 9/11. "A good person" and "decent man," said the one-time Pentagon adviser Kenneth Adelman, who had predicted the war in Iraq would be a "cakewalk." Paul Wolfowitz wrote a four-page letter to praise "the noblest spirit of selfless service" that he knew motivated his friend Scooter. Yes, that Paul Wolfowitz, who had claimed Iraqis would "greet us as liberators" and that Iraq would "finance its own reconstruction." The same Paul Wolfowitz who had to resign recently as president of the World Bank for using his office to show favoritism to his girlfriend. Paul Wolfowitz turned character witness.
The praise kept coming: from Douglas Feith, who ran the Pentagon factory of disinformation that Cheney and Libby used to brainwash the press; from Richard Perle, as cocksure about Libby's "honesty, integrity, fairness and balance" as he had been about the success of the war; and from William Kristol, who had primed the pump of the propaganda machine at The Weekly Standard and has led the call for a Presidential pardon. "The case was such a farce, in my view," he said. "I'm for pardon on the merits."
One Beltway insider reports that the entire community is grieving -- "weighted down by the sheer, glaring unfairness" of Libby's sentence.
And there's the rub.
None seem the least weighted down by the sheer, glaring unfairness of sentencing soldiers to repeated and longer tours of duty in a war induced by deception. It was left to the hawkish academic Fouad Ajami to state the matter baldly. In a piece published on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, Ajami pleaded with Bush to pardon Libby. For believing "in the nobility of this war," wrote Ajami, Scooter Libby had himself become a "casualty" -- a fallen soldier the President dare not leave behind on the Beltway battlefield.
Not a word in the entire article about the real fallen soldiers. The honest-to-God dead, and dying, and wounded. Not a word about the chaos or the cost. Even as the calamity they created worsens, all they can muster is a cry for leniency for one of their own who lied to cover their tracks.
There are contrarian voices: "This is an open and shut case of perjury and obstruction of justice," said Pat Buchanan. "The Republican Party stands for the idea that high officials should not be lying to special investigators." From the former Governor of Virginia, James Gilmore, a staunch conservative, comes this verdict: "If the public believes there's one law for a certain group of people in high places and another law for regular people, then you will destroy the law and destroy the system."
So it may well be, as The Hartford Courant said editorially, that Mr Libby is "a nice guy, a loyal and devoted patriot...but none of that excuses perjury or obstruction of justice. If it did, truth wouldn't matter much."
Bill Moyers is managing editor of the weekly public affairs program Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS. This essay appears on tonight's program. Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at www.pbs.org/moyers.