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(DV) Hill: Libby Trial Shines Spotlight on the Fraud Squad





Libby Trial Shines Spotlight on the Fraud Squad
Exposing Deceit in High Places -- and Indicting Mainstream Media as Major Players 

by Monica Hill
April 14, 2007
First Published in Freedom Socialist

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Good! After four years of legalistic futzing around, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former aide to Vice President Cheney, was convicted on March 6 of perjury and obstruction. 

Of course, Libby’s trial was about much more than one high-placed politician’s felonies. Its glaring subtext was the government’s lies about the Iraq war and the U.S. media’s collusion in that deception.  
Did this government tell bald-faced lies to justify invading Iraq? Has it continued to do so through the course of the carnage? Is the mainstream media the mouthpiece for those lies? 
In the opinion of many, "Yes, yes, and yes." The Libby trial certainly added weight to that case. 
Trying to Narrowly Define the Issue -- and Failing  
As far as the actual charges went, Libby wasn’t on trial for the administration’s crimes of lying to the public, Congress and the world in order to justify invading Iraq. 
On the contrary, the prosecution, defense and judge set very narrow parameters from the outset. Libby was accused of lying to a grand jury and the FBI to cover up the White House’s frantic efforts to silence a war skeptic, former ambassador Joseph Wilson. The ambassador had publicly discredited the Bush’s assertion in a State of the Union address that Iraq tried to get material for making nuclear weapons from Niger.

During jury selection, Libby’s lawyers blocked any potential juror who admitted to disliking the Bush administration or the Iraq war. Not so easy to do at a time when Bush’s popularity is at a dismal low and the public is increasingly anti-war!  
The trial started on Jan. 23. Then followed 14 days of courtroom testimony about who told whom and when that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA agent. The luckless jury listened to hours of Libby’s taped testimony to the grand jury three years ago. As it turned out, that was the last they heard from the defendant. Libby never took the stand. Neither did Cheney. 
The Justice Department’s prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, argued that Libby lied repeatedly to mask his role in exposing a CIA agent. Libby’s legal team asserted that he was a scapegoat for more powerful people in the Bush administration -- an equally valid proposition, but hardly a real defense. In his closing arguments, attorney Theodore Wells sobbed, "This is a man with a wife and two children, he is a good person." 
How dare anyone expect sympathy for Libby, who played a key role in getting this country into a war that has directly or indirectly killed over 600,000 Iraqis, most of them civilians, and over 3,000 Americans -- at a price tag of over 400 billion dollars and counting. 
As the trial played out within its managed confines, how many people could avoid thinking about these costs to life and quality of life? Who could not wonder about Karl Rove’s role, and the roles of Richard Cheney and George W. Bush? 
The Media is Busted  
The parade of journalists in the witness box -- some for the prosecution, some for the defense -- told its own tale about the incestuous relationship between the government and media. All of the witnesses were high-profile names working for big newspapers or syndicates: Judith Miller and David Sanger of the New York Times, Matt Cooper of Time magazine, Tim Russert of NBC’s Meet the Press, columnist Robert Novak, Bob Woodward and Walter Pincus of the Washington Post.  
In October 2005, media critic Jeff Cohen wrote: "Today, elite journalists can’t pretend to be on the outside looking in at a scandal that doesn’t involve them. This scandal is about them -- it’s about White House-media cronyism, about journalists on the top rung of the phone trees of Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, two of the dirtiest smear artists in Washington history. It’s no accident Rove and Libby didn’t turn to Helen Thomas or Seymour Hersh about Joe Wilson. They turned to journalists they could count on -- at news outlets that had dutifully promoted so many pre-war lies." 
Major media has become much more than the lap dog of big business. It is big business. Perhaps that explains why the New York Times, Washington Post, Time Warner, and NBC were all willing to let their reporters testify, a chilling violation of the First Amendment right to a free press. For years these institutions and their powerful journalists have conveyed government lies that led to and defended the invasion of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  
Several of those same reporters scorned the significance of Libby’s indictment. Nevertheless, it is the first time since the Iran-contra scandal in the 1980s that a White House official has been convicted. Rather fitting, really, since Libby is one of the many neoconservative wonder boys who started their careers in the Reagan administration. 
After the Verdict  
At trial’s end, both the prosecution and the defense staunchly applauded the system of justice in the USA. And why not, with both sides representing the same ruling class? Libby will appeal, while remaining out of jail. And Fitzgerald indicated no interest in going after any other culprits.  
One thing is certain. The neocon plots and White House webs of deceit have lost their sheen even for most conservatives, at least for the moment. The Libby trial, limited though it was, helped to bring this about.  
The Democratic Party wants workers to think that Libby’s crimes are Republican crimes. But in 1964, the Johnson administration invented an "unprovoked attack" by the North Vietnamese on a U.S. destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin that never happened. A falsehood cooked up as an excuse to escalate the war, it too was duly "reported" by the major media.
Something else is certain. It used to take decades for the dirty deeds of big business and government to reach the light of day. Now there’s internet access and information available from a wealth of sources that do not snap to salute the rulers of state. This, reinforced by an awareness of this government’s systematic deception heightened by the Libby exposés, will make it harder to sell war.  
But are people too cynical or burned out by years of gamesmanship to take action? Or will they be provoked to rise to their feet and call to account all of the politicians responsible for the unjust and disastrous Iraq war, Democrats included? And will working reporters who don’t want to be cogs in the war machine be spurred to truly muckrake, as any good journalist should? 
Perhaps it is too soon to tell the results of Libby’s trial. Hopefully, it will stimulate public opposition to an entire system that makes war and deadly deceit its business as usual.

Perhaps it is too soon to tell the results of Libby’s trial. Hopefully, it will stimulate public opposition to an entire system that makes war and deadly deceit its business as usual. 

Monica Hill writes for the Freedom Socialist newspaper, where this article first appeared.