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Libby’s scapegoat card

July 6, 2007

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In the midst of the many lines of pure nonsense spouted by defenders of the Libby commutation and pardon-to-be, I’d like to focus on one which has the widest cachet, even though once examined it is the most nonsensical. Namely, the idea that whatever I. Lewis did to Valerie Plame, there were plenty of others who did the same thing, and it’s not fair for him to be punished while Rove and Cheney and Armitage get off scot free. Truly, for Libby to play this scapegoat card is the precise equivalent of the classic definition of chutzpah: the matricide/parricide who throws himself on the mercy of the court on the grounds that he’s an orphan.

I want to address it, because of all the pro-Libby arguments, this is the only one that I’ve found resonates with ordinary people not already wrapped up in Bush worship. I’ve heard the sentiment expressed by a number of friends who are good liberals. Libby’s lawyers, knowing that on the merits they had no case at all, planned to make the trial into an appeal for jury nullification, based on just this supposed injustice. It was the centerpiece of their opening argument, and it appears that they only backed off from that plan after the White House, alarmed at the defense team’s threat that they would make Cheney testify, sent along assurances that Libby would get his pardon. And we learned that the jurors, most of them opposed to the war and opposed to Libby politically, expressed to reporters a good deal of sympathy for Libby personally because they felt he was indeed being made into a scapegoat.

This whole line of thinking is exactly upside down. For one thing, this isn’t a case of some low-level underling being thrown to the wolves. Scooter wasn’t some sad-sack private or corporal like the scapegoats in the Abu Ghraib affair. He was Cheney’s second in command, the four-star general to Ticky Dick’s five-star. Arguably he was the second most powerful individual in the country, certainly among the top four.

But more important, Rove wasn’t making Libby into a scapegoat. Cheney wasn’t making him into a scapegoat. Fitzgerald wasn’t making him into a scapegoat. Libby volunteered to be the one to take the rap. In fact, the crime of which he was convicted – the lies and the obstruction of justice – were acts he undertook with the aim and for the purpose of assigning himself the scapegoat role so that Cheney (and incidentally Rove) would be protected.

It would not be far wrong to say that the crime for which Irving Lewis Libby was charged and convicted was shielding Cheney by scapegoating himself.

Accordingly, anyone who is offended at the injustice of Scooter’s scapegoating should, exactly for that reason, be demanding an extension of the man’s prison term, not its revocation.

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