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Pardon Me: The "Get Out of Jail Free" Game

September 3, 2004
By Weldon Berger

The current Bush administration seems likely to make its historical debut as not only the most secretive and corrupt administration of this century (by default, so far) but since the turn of the last century as well. It's a corruption that includes - but isn't limited to - the usual material greed; the fallout from an ideological greed leading to wholesale betrayal of the country and its interests will likely dwarf that associated with any cash grabs.

Word of a number of investigations into administration malfeasance has begun to percolate, and while one can be forgiven for enjoying a certain amount of unabashedly partisan glee, the more important aspect of the investigations is the opportunity they may provide to completely discredit the administration and its ideological engines.

Revenge is fine; grinding the bastards so far down that no one will ever again attempt an assault upon our democracy such as that mounted by this crew of piratical zealots, is crucial. This same crowd successfully hijacked the government once before, with their Iran-Contra dealings, and no one should get more than two whacks at the democratic pinata.

Among the current investigations in which administration luminaries play a role as what we might call "persons of interest," thanks to John Ashcroft's Orwellian linguistic skills, are several centered around undersecretary of defense Doug Feith's office. The FBI and other agencies are looking into the possibility that Feith or some of his subordinates, or both, have been running a shadow department of state out of the Pentagon, and there's an investigation, either parallel to or intertwined with those, into whether or not someone in the Pentagon transferred classified information to Iran via former Iraqi president-in-waiting, Ahmed Chalabi.

There's also the Plame investigation, a whole raft of investigations into financial shenanigans related to contracts for services rendered and otherwise in Iraq, not to mention the ones that will be developing around former Iraq Proconsul Paul Bremer and the $9 billion or so in Iraqi oil money he and his minions seem to have misplaced, and the investigations either ongoing or to be mounted regarding former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds' charges that the FBI's translation teams suffer problems ranging from incompetence to harboring traitors.

This doesn't count the investigations we don't yet know about but that people who don't like Mr. Bush or his handlers will be leaking between now and November. It doesn't count the investigations that will arise should Bush be booted from office and a less obstinate justice department leadership takes over. And it doesn't count the investigations that won't happen but should, as for instance whether any members of the administration should be charged for the numerous Geneva Convention violations we've embraced in Afghanistan and Iraq, or for interfering in the internal affairs of Venezuela and, possibly, Equatorial Guinea.

If Bush loses the election - and I know I'm assuming facts not in evidence, but bear with me - all of those investigations other than the ones involving war crimes and international skullduggery will be on the table. (No US government wants to set a precedent of punishing our leaders for war crimes or crimes against humanity because, well, it would set a precedent.) Everyone in the administration from Bush on down will be lawyered up and looking to grab a blanket pardon for any crimes they may have committed in connection with their duties.

Even should Bush win the election, which we won't know until all the lawsuits are settled, a number of his associates are in imminent danger - really imminent, not like the US vis a vis Iraq - including Karl Rove, Dick Cheney's security advisor, Lewis Libby, and of course Feith and company in the Pentagon.

Newspaper accounts say the Feith investigation has spread to or led to investigations of unnamed state department personnel, which would, in my opinion, most likely include John Bolton, a one-time assistant to then-Attorney General Ed Meese charged with stonewalling the various Iran-Contra investigations, and John Negroponte, the current ambassador to Iraq and former ambassador to Honduras, in which role he helped transform the country into a massive staging area for attacks on Nicaragua's Sandinista government and its citizens, and to cover up massive human rights abuses committed in support of the Contras.

Among the other prominent Iran-Contra alumni in the Bush administration is Elliot Abrams, a Reagan assistant secretary of state who pleaded guilty to, and was pardoned for two misdemeanor charges of lying to Congress in connection with Iran-Contra and other ugly American incidents. Abrams' name hasn't surfaced in connection with any of the current known investigations but, as a member of the Bush National Security Council and an inveterate conspirator, his complicity in another scam would hardly be surprising.

It seems that several of the investigations may be coming to a head, notably the one into who burned CIA agent Valerie Plame and the one directly involving Doug Feith's office. Although the GOP-controlled Congress has been adamant in its refusal to investigate potential wrong-doing among administration members, the body may change its mind; better, perhaps, to offer Congressional immunity from prosecution than to trust that only the proper dominoes fall in any criminal investigation. Regardless the outcome of the immediate investigations, though, a number of people could be eager to obtain that get out of jail free card called a presidential pardon.

At this point, the likeliest candidates seem to be Rove, Lewis Libby, Feith and his two assistants who are under scrutiny, Harold Rhode and Larry Franklin and, if the reports of state department personnel being interviewed are correct, the Johns Bolton and Negroponte. Former Pentagon comptroller Dov Zakheim, who quit abruptly earlier this year, could be a person of interest with respect to any number of Iraq-related problems, including the Coalition Provisional Authority's free-handed dispersal of Pentagon monies, and another Iran-Contra wacko, Michael Ledeen - no longer in government but a member of the Defense Policy Board and a close associate of Iranian arms dealer Manucher Ghorbaifar, to whom Feith acolytes Franklin and Rhode are tied, may be on the hot seat as well.

Add Donald Rumsfeld - who seems unlikely to survive the election no matter who wins - to the group, along with Pentagon intelligence honcho Steven Cambone and, for good measure, Elliot Abrams, and we've got a round dozen whose names I think are likely to crop up on the pardon lists around Christmas, along with a bunch of people whose names we don't yet know.

The reason the downfall of these people is necessary and should be pursued with an excess of punitive enthusiasm is that they in their turn have come as close to destroying this country's raison d'etre as anyone since the Civil War. Because of the Patriot Act, because of their skillful use of Orwellian language, their wholehearted adoption of The Big Lie, the damage they've done and continue to do to our military - not just the physical damage of stretching it beyond its limits, but the psychological damage to our troops and the erosion of our military's image as unstoppable - and our diplomatic credibility, the looting of the treasury in service of an epic foreign policy blunder abroad and an unashamed giveaway to wealthy individuals and corporations at home, because of their constant assaults against the social programs and benefits that have proved crucial for the most vulnerable among us during the decades since the New Deal, their shameless worship of force over persuasion, their shameless pandering to the least tolerant elements of our society, their tireless efforts at chipping away the wall between church and state, this administration's criminals must be punished, must be shamed and ridiculed beyond redemption, must be so thoroughly destroyed that no one will ever again attempt what they have.

That's more likely to happen than the ultra-loyal attitude of the administration toward the felons in its ranks might lead one to believe.

Crimes committed on behalf of an ideology soon enough devolve, once they're discovered, into crimes committed on behalf of saving the ideologue's ass. Passing secrets to allies or enemies to manipulate our foreign policy soon enough leads to obstruction of justice as papers are shredded and emails deleted, or perjury as people lie to save their own hides or those of their superiors. A heroic man of principle suddenly becomes a jailhouse snitch. Ollie North, during the Iran-Contra investigations, survived the transition and profited from it, but today's crooks don't have a uniform or Ronald Reagan to hide behind.

And Ollie didn't face the wrath of his own, either. The GOP has hardened since Ollie's day, with the currently ascendent neoconservatives and ultra-rightists wielding a nail-studded club not only against their partisan enemies, a la the savaging of Max Cleland during the 2002 Congressional elections, but against dissident members of their own party, as happened to senator Jim Jeffords and, to a lesser but still significant degree, his moderate GOP colleagues in the Senate, such as Rhode Island's moderate senator Lincoln Chafee or Maine's Susan Collins. Even in the House, traditionally a more disciplined body, the rift between mainstream conservatives and those who hew to the neoconservative and Christian right party lines is both visible and bitter. Writing in the New York Times Sunday magazine, David Brooks, often and inaccurately considered a representative of the sane wing of the GOP, says that if Bush loses the election the GOP will resemble "a pack of wolves that suddenly turns on itself."

That's a good thing. Neoconservatives fancy themselves the ultimate realists; we'll see how they fare when faced with the realistic prospect of a stint in federal prison and with the hysterical anger of a party whose hold on power they will have shattered, at least for now and perhaps for decades. And a GOP civil war will help remediate the Democratic party's tendency to lose its head of steam once it has won.

Th civil war Brooks fears is on no matter who wins the election, because the investigative genie is out of the bottle. The party of small government and limited foreign engagement will still be seeing a wave of revelations highlighting the administration's lack of regard for democracy, genuine security and anyone who doesn't toe the line with canine fealty. The tales of deals with Iraqi and Iranian con men, of passing classified information to people who oughtn't to have it, of burning a CIA agent and trashing her decade's worth of undercover non-proliferation work - the very arena about which the administration claims to be most concerned - not from any regard for domestic security or foreign policy goals, but from pure, bilious spite; well, it would be, I think, impossible to find an example of a party and administration surviving the weight of that much baggage. Treason, or something near it, ought to prove not the straw that breaks the neoconservative camel's back, but the asteroid that vaporizes the camel.

Weldon Berger is a freelance writer living in Hawaii where, along with any number of exotic plants and birds who don't deserve the bad company, neoconservatives are an endangered species. He welcomes your comments, questions or hysterical ad hominen assaults and can be reached by email or at his BTC News website.

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