Monday, April 24, 2006

A Few Words On The Leak, and Other Things

As all of you ought to know by now, a top-ranking CIA officer has been fired for leaking information about CIA secret prisons. Her name is Mary O. McCarthy, and she is a seasoned officer, on the verge of retirement. It's also been reported that she was a donor to the Kerry campaign, and to the Democratic Party in general. She's close with Joe Wilson, Sandy Berger, and Richard Clarke.

Politically, you know how this looks. The right-wing blogosphere has gone into full assault mode as usual, entertaining all manner of conspiracies about collusion with the Democrats. To them, she's a politically-motivated traitor, who because of her hatred of Bush, has aided al-qaeda. To them, she's just another in a long line of politically motivated leaks designed to undermine the Administration, and the nation. Put her jail, they cry.

First off, I'm going to do my duty and reject the idea that this MUST be a partisan stunt. There isn't sufficient evidence to make such judgments. I'll seriously entertain the possibility that she honestly felt that these secret prisons were illegal or immoral, and took a moral stand.

Regardless, she still broke the rules, and was right to be fired. There are legal avenues for dealing with things like this legally. She could've gone to Congress. Maybe she did. Maybe she felt she had no other recourse, considering the political environment. Perhaps this will help her out if prosecuted, but she still broke the law. One does have to pay the penalties in these situations, no? They make you sign secrecy agreements. She surely must have known the rules.

The illegality of her actions notwithstanding, as I said before I'm not ready to dismiss her as a fifth-column partisan hack. Her motivations don't really get her off the hook, but it's entirely possible she was doing what she felt was her patriotic duty. Of course, pro-Bush types will scoff at this, pointing out her political contributions as supposedly slam-dunk proof of her malice. Honestly, I'm going to wait and see how this plays out.

I do want to return to a larger point that I touched on a few months ago. Before I go any further, I feel am I forced to preface the proceeding statements with the fact that I am a committed supporter of the Global War on Terror, and I feel that the President must have broad tools in dealing with the terror threat. That being said, these powers must be checked by Congress and the Constitution. I do not believe the President has virtually unlimited power during wartime. I have serious concerns about the legality of the NSA wiretapping/warrantless surveillance program. It seems to me, and a whole slew of legal experts, that the way this program was implemented might be illegal. It goes against FISA. The arguments for the legality of this program are at least debatable. As I've said, it's not really the spying that bothers me, rather the underlying argument of inter arma, enim silent leges.

I watched those hearings intently. No one has yet to explain why submitting the program to FISA is bad. I understand that speed and flexibility are essential post 9/11. I get that. The thing that makes this whole thing tougher is that this program appears to have actually thwarted attacks. I don't want this program to die. I want the legal issues settled. For the record, despite my concerns, I thought the Feingold censure was ill-advised. It presumes a deliberate attempt to subvert the law, and bad faith. The question was asked, whether Bush and his team honestly believed this program was legal. I've no doubt that they do. They really believe in the whole idea of inherent authority in wartime. In their view, not only is the program legal, but FISA is actually unconstitutional. In their minds, it's not the President that's abusing power, but Congress. Oh yes, they believe in their argument, but they reject even the slightest possibility that their view is wrong. To them, the idea of debating this is undermining the war. All those Democrats and concerned Republicans are just playing politics. Who gives a damn about the law?

Of course there are those who see any attempt to fight the GWOT as another attempt by Bush to rule over us. To them, Iraq is an illegal immoral war, and Bush is to blame for everything. You've heard those rants before too.

The thing is, the underlying premise of "anything goes in war" is really driving a lot of furor on the pro-Bush right. That's why the fury is unleashed on the leakers, and the critics in the press, and Congressional Democrats, but not the administration. Shoot the messenger, in other words.

So, this new leak story will develop further, and the Right will bombard us with conspiracies about Democrats and the CIA trying to turn us all into dhimmis. Many on the right have committed themselves to the idea that Democrats are colluding with the enemy already, so this is just more red meat for them.

Once again, everyday Americans are subjected to the same lame exercise. Thankfully, the brave patriots actually fighting the war manage to rise above this nonsense. They've got more important work to do.

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