July 19, 2007

Plame goes down swinging

Valerie Plame Wilson's lawsuit against Cheney, Rove, Libby, Armitage, et alia, has been dismissed. She was seeking damages for the destruction of her career at the CIA, proximately caused by the vindictive, and treasonous, retaliation by Rove and Libby, acting in concert with Cheney (or maybe at his direction) to discredit the criticisms of Valerie Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson. My own passing familiarity with the concept of sovereign immunity, inherited like so many American legal concepts from British jurisprudence, leaves me unsurprised at the result. This was an uphill battle, as Plame's lawyers admitted at each step of the case. In essence, sovereign immunity shields government officials from civil damages which result from actions performed in the course of their official duties. No doubt, in general, this is a salutary principle. It is hard enough to find decent and qualified people to run for office as it is. If you add to the existing risks the idea you can be sued for a policy decision which goes awry (or perhaps accomplishes the very purpose you intended), then even more crazy people would infest the halls of government. Imagine if George W. Bush were civilly liable for the damages caused by his disaster of a war against Iraq. Yes, nice to imagine...but could the damages even be calculated? How to chalk board those, as the lawyers say.

Still, I was hoping she would get somewhere with the lawsuit. Patrick Fitzgerald used the excuse of Libby's perjury to shy away from the true jugular of the case, which was the intentional disclosure of an undercover agent's identity. It seems to me the case was there; Fitzgerald, whose refusal to say anything explanatory about his decision not to pursue the main or substantive case has always struck me as exceedingly weird, simply didn't want to take on the bigwigs. He settled for a set of technical charges against one errand boy, and in the end the President, who doesn't care at all about legality or honesty, took even this hollow victory away from him.

So Rove, Armitage and Libby, along with the Vice President, engaged in a concerted plan to make public, to reporters and the world at large, the secret identity of an undercover operative working in the field of weapons of mass destruction, under the business cover of Brewster Jennings. She would have had contacts in the field, and some of them would have operated under that same cover in dangerous territory. Her disclosure, along with the wholly gratuitous disclosure by Robert Novak of her trade cover, exposed those agents and cooperators to arrest, imprisonment, torture and execution. And no one in Washington who was instrumental in blowing her cover, for rolling up those networks, will pay any price whatsoever. The administration will not conduct an investigation to find out what the consequences were of this blown cover. The civil lawsuit has been dismissed. The criminal conviction has been vitiated. No one even lost their security clearance. The White House never even initiated an internal investigation by its own office of security.

I don't think the idea of sovereign immunity was ever meant to go that far. It's a measure, however, of where we are on the road to a completely unaccountable government.

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